CODA was the subject of much industry discussion when it was sold at the Sundance Film Festival to Apple for a record-breaking $25 million. Park City visitors scrambled to discover what was so special: the feature has neither of the things that would usually warrant such a hefty price tag with zero movie stars and no high-concept premise.
Written and directed by Sian Heder (Tallulah), this remake of French comedy La Famille Bélier centres on ambitious student Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), whose family runs a fishing business in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The protagonist is a talented singer who wants to pursue her passion. To achieve her goals she must undertake a classic journey of self-actualisation. It’s a familiar coming-of-age narrative revitalised by its portrayal of a Deaf family – a culture that historically has been underserved in cinema – and a series of authentic performances that are amongst the best in the genre for some time.
Whilst the original movie cast hearing actors, CODA strives for both inclusivity and the truth by featuring Deaf actors Daniel Durant, Troy Kotsur and Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin in the respective roles of Ruby’s brother Leo, father Frank and mother Jackie. There’s a sense that the filmmakers shaped the piece in close collaboration with the performers. The fruits of their joint efforts are evident in the strong emotional impact. The members of the Rossi family aren’t there to simply provide obstacles to the heroine’s journey – they are agents of their own stories.
Furthermore, the characters are simply delightful. Heder’s screenplay is rife with good humour. Frank amusingly frustrates his daughter when she has to interpret blunt messages about his health in the clinic and awkward relationship advice to her duet partner Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Her father’s casual lack of inhibitions, in contrast to the teenager’s angst, gives space for the two actors to entertainingly bounce off each other and earn their pathos. Matlin and Durant perform somewhere in between these opposite ends of the spectrum and altogether the four have terrific chemistry. With backing from Apple TV+, they could be serious contenders this awards season.
Overall, though, the feature runs under two hours but feels longer as the inciting incident of the third act occurs somewhat early. This affords the film more space to complete character arcs but, considering how heavy it is on coming-of-age tropes, it’s just more time for formality. Overall, CODA is a total joy that was worth every penny spent by Apple.
CODA is streaming on Apple TV+ on August 13th 2021.
For further information about Sundance Film Festival 2021 visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for CODA here: