Following her 2016 Sundance debut Tallulah, American filmmaker Siân Heder returns to the festival with her second feature, CODA. The film stars British actress Emilia Jones as Ruby, the only hearing child of her fishing family. Her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin) rely on her to interpret for the family, but her loyalty is tested when her love for singing offers her a future away from her home.
From the outset, we see that Ruby is struggling with life. She constantly acts a go-between for the ‘real world’ and her family, which increases the pressure regarding her family loyalty. In addition, their profession and her laidback parents cause further embarrassment at school. It is not until she joins the choir, run by Bernardo (Eugenio Derbez), that she finds her voice.
The story of someone with torn loyalties and pursuing their dream is a familiar one, and CODA is no exception. Its conventionality leads to certain clichés such as mean school girls, family friction, the quirky but supportive teacher and best friend, as well as the ‘perfect’ love interest, which comes in the form of underused Miles (Sing Street‘s Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Despite their familiarity, they fundamentally help Ruby to succeed and push the film into crowdpleaser territory.
While it makes a star out of Jones, CODA shines by challenging the conceptions of the deaf community. Ruby’s family struggle to connect with others and their inability to communicate causes others to dismiss them as stupid and helpless. However, Heder’s poignant screenplay and direction highlights the moving and sometimes hilarious performances from her deaf cast, showing that deafness doesn’t dampen the story’s emotivity.
Overall, CODA feels like all-too familiar. But thanks to Jones’ great performance and Heder’s screenplay, it won’t stop audiences rooting – and weeping – for its endearing protagonist.
Director: Siân Heder
Stars: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant
Runtime: 111 minutes