SUNDANCE Movie Review: Coda
by Julie Perez
Directed by Siân Hader, Coda tells a unique coming-of-age story.
Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing person in her family (Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin), which has forced her to translate for them throughout most of her life. Her days begin at 3 am because she helps her family with their fish business. After working on the boat, Ruby heads to school to complete her senior year of High School. Ruby attempts to tackle her passion for singing, her schoolwork, and her family’s fish business but the overwhelming stress of it all forces her to evaluate what she wants from life.
In an attempt to become closer to her crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), Ruby joins the school choir and quickly discovers that it’s her passion. Her choir teacher, Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), convinces her to audition for Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music which subsequently causes her to alienate her family. When her family’s business finds itself threatened, Ruby is forced to decide between helping them or following her passion; truly a Sophie’s Choice moment if I’ve ever seen one.
CODA was created with love at the forefront, which is evident within every single frame. Hader treated the story of an underrepresented community with such care and it all started with the casting. By casting deaf actors to play the family, she showed us just how easy inclusion could be for Hollywood. She showed respect for a community that the general public often dismisses. CODA is such a joyful watch; it will make you belly laugh in one scene while bringing tears to your eyes in a separate one.
The ensemble cast deserves all the praise that comes their way. Marlee Matlin played the loving and protective mother with the kind of passion that will shake you to your core. Troy Kotsur and his impeccable comedic timing allowed for wonderful moments of levity, while also being essential for the emotionally-driven climactic father-daughter scene towards the end of the film. Daniel Durant plays the conflicted and often misunderstood brother in such a tender manner that you immediately ached for him. Emilia Jones will make waves with this film and will ultimately become a talent to watch in the coming years.
I was unprepared to connect as fervently with this film as I did. As a Mexican-American child, I grew up having to translate for my mother. The number of awkward doctors’ appointments I had to attend when I was younger, would make for a wonderfully-embarrassing memoir. For me, Ruby’s story and the conflicted feelings she has about wanting to live her life but feeling like she should stay to help her family felt relatable in a way that I hadn’t experienced in a film before. CODA is just another reminder of how interconnected we all are and for that, I will be eternally grateful to Siân Hader.
Apple TV+ won a bidding war and acquired CODA for a whopping $25 million, which is a record high for Sundance. It’s only a matter of time before this heartwarming film hits one of your Apple products.