CODA moved me to tears
I fell in love with sign language in 11th grade. One of my favorite teachers was teaching a course on ASL (American Sign Language) so I jumped at the opportunity to join the class and earn a couple language credits. I was excited, but I had no idea what I was taking on, or how much I would love it. I am an extremely expressive communicator--I talk with my hands almost exclusively, and I can never hide a facial expression. It doesn't get me in too much trouble, although it definitely should. As much as I was fascinated with the language itself, Deaf culture was an important part of the course as well. When I first discovered CODA and the positive reviews I was ecstatic to have the chance to see it. CODA delivered for me, my expectations were high and they were far met in more ways than one.
The director is almost always the owner of the film, one often argues. The way the director chooses to present the story as a whole is theirs. Director/Writer Sian Heder makes CODA hers, distinct and thoughtful yet still very creative and not overdone. She delicately creates so many characters that you genuinely care about throughout and has you rooting for everyone along the way. There is no antagonist, yet she still is able to develop genuine drama and conflict. It takes a special skill to be able to direct a narrative in that direction, to tell a story and influence an audience to see the characters and story for who and what they are, and Heder masters this. At the same time, she is, unknowingly to the audience, offering a new perspective on Deaf culture, teaching the audience about something they didn’t realize they didn’t understand in the first place.
With CODA, there are so many storylines here that are perfectly woven together to create a cohesive, whole narrative that leaves you feeling perfectly full and satisfied with content and story. However, it can still be explained fairly easily: CODA, an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adult(s)”, is about a family of four--two deaf adults, one deaf son, and one hearing daughter living in a fishing town in Massachusetts, figuring out how to save their fishing business while simultaneously discovering and identifying who they are individually, and as a family unit. Hearing daughter, Ruby, unfortunately and fortunately acts as a built-in interpreter for her family, providing a voice for them when they cannot speak, and giving them context and content to conversations they would not be privy to otherwise. However, Ruby has a special skill that is unknown to her family. Not because she hides it from her family, but because she feels she is unable to share it with them, or with anyone, really. She is a natural, talented singer. Unsure if she is actually good, she takes herself out of her comfort zone and into her school choir group. Choir starts to conflict with supporting her family and their business. Ruby is challenged with the decision to support her family and chase her dreams and goals. She navigates the struggles of relationships, both in romance and in family, time management, and love all while growing into herself and teaching her family to stand up for themselves too--showing them they have a voice even without her physical, audible voice.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The chemistry of this entire cast is off the charts. Each character has their own identity, unique struggles and complex issues, and collectively they have shared issues but from different perspectives. The dialog is thoughtful because of the way it is presented, through sign versus spoken language and what to present and when. There are emotional moments and genuinely funny moments, without making fun of characters. Ruby (Emilia Jones), the main character, has a strong soft way about her. Her brother Leo (Daniel Durant) cares a lot about everything, but has a complicated and sometimes aggressive way of showing it. Her mother, Jackie (Marlee Matlin) seems self-centered but has a side she reveals at a certain point that will pull on your heart at the just the right time, The father, Frank (Troy Kostur) is hilarious, loyal, dedicated--and has one of the most moving scenes in the film with Ruby--it brought me to tears. The quirky choir teacher, Tony, who you grow to love, becomes a mentor for Ruby that is an incredibly important addition to the cast and the narrative.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
There is nothing special or spectacular here--because it doesn't need to be. The film is visually satisfying because of its simplicity and honesty, not showing off vast, wide oceans, but the slop and mess of the shore and a fishing boat. It’s not disgusting but more relatable and just encompasses a feeling of home and comfortability.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Sometimes, the most useful and impactful way sound can be used is how and when you limit the sound, or remove it completely. This is, of course, expected but still special in this film. In the moments you expect the sound to be lessened, it’s not--so it shocks you and startlles you in the best way when it is actually removed. Sometimes devastatingly and emotionally so, sometimes solely strategic.
CODA moved me to tears multiple times and in different ways than anticipated. Go into this film open minded and just let it capture you and pull you into the culture of the family and individuals you assume you already know and understand. CODA is about how we communicate as humans, how we show our whole selves to the people we love and care about, and how they understand us differently when we expose different, unknown parts of ourselves. Basically--CODA is a story that I cannot recommend enough, I hope everyone watches and loves.