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Sundance 2021 - CODA Review

With CODA, Sîan Heder’s sophomore effort is a wonderfully made film about family and what it means to be there for the ones you love. With a great script, fresh and likable characters, and some great music, CODA is likely to tug at every one of your heart strings. CODA (Child of Deaf Adult) is a coming-of-age film about Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her family, and how her connection to them, as well as the outside world, are tested when she decides to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer. As Ruby begins to question her life’s direction, we see her grappling with the ideas of independence, familial responsibility, and self-confidence. On the surface, this film has a lot of the makings of a run-of-the-mill family comedy, but immense care from the filmmaker and some killer performances elevate this film to new heights.

Everything about this film and its production feels centered around the idea of inclusivity. What it means to be a part of a community, what the apparent barriers are, and how we as humans can overcome them. On the surface, CODA is really just a film about a girl from a poor family who is looking to achieve her dreams, but when these themes are explored, this movie becomes far more complex and rewarding. A lot of this feel can be attributed to the deaf actors who worked on this film. It’s clear that an immense amount of time and care went into portraying the lifestyle of a deaf person in a refreshing and authentic way. Jones’ performance is revelatory as she brings this complex and relatable character to life, but her performance is only made stronger by the excellent support from her deaf co-stars. Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant all turn in great performances as Ruby’s hilarious and loving family. Like a real family, this cast truly succeeds together, as one. The best scenes in this movie are when we see them doing (for lack of a better term) family stuff; from family dinners to car rides, the Rossis always keep things entertaining. Additional support comes from Eugenio Derbez who adds a great performance as the passionate and patient music teacher. Derbez delivers strongly on both ends of the spectrum, providing excellent comic relief, as well as carrying some of the more impactful scenes.

The other major player in this production is the music. As we see in the film, music becomes a huge part of Ruby’s life and seeing the way in which she shares this with her family brought me to the brink of tears. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, all of the musical scenes flourish. Some of the most powerful parts of this film come from the way Heder chooses to use music and sound design.

With the help of her amazing team, Heder sets out to tell an extremely powerful story and does it with such warmth and accessibility. Viewers will feel completely welcomed into the Rossi family with all of their hardships, as well as their successes. While this film definitely falls into some of the sappier tropes of coming-of-age/family comedies, it manages to give the audience enough genuinely heartfelt moments to balance it out.

This film is sure to be a crowd pleaser and one that people will be talking about for a long time. No matter who you are or what your background is, this film will resonate with you in some way; be it the touching coming-of-age story, the hilarious script, or the heartfelt familial drama, this film just works and is certainly one to put on your list! CODA certainly caught me off guard, as I wasn’t expecting to be on the brink of tears on a Thursday night, but what a way to start the first night of Sundance!

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