There are some films that have humble begins and then grow in publicity and popularity unexpectedly. This year’s dark horse is undoubtedly, comedy-drama CODA, which has had a huge awards’ presence, and even been grabbing some unexpected wins. The film follows Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), who is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), and her experiences as the only hearing person in her family. As Ruby discovers that she loves music and singing, complexities arise, especially as her family set up their own fishing business. CODA’s achievements shouldn’t be ignored as 40% of the film is American Sign Language, which is a brilliant way of raising awareness and promoting inclusion within the film industry. The cast of Ruby’s family consists of Daniel Durant (who plays Ruby’s brother, Leo), Troy Kotsur (who plays Ruby’s father, Frank), and Oscar winner Marlee Matline (who plays Ruby’s mother, Jackie).
The film is written and directed by Siân Heder and is her second feature following her 2016 debut, Tallulah. CODA is a remake of the 2014 French film, La Famille Bélier, which did exceptionally well in the French box office on release and was nominated for numerous César Awards. Heder’s script relocates the story to a fishing community in Massachusetts, but maintains the main story element that the protagonist discovers that she loves singing and wants to audition for a place at a prestigious music school. What Heder’s script does really well is bring a great level of characterisation to each member of the Rossi family as the film chronicles the familial relationships and conflicts that Ruby has with each member. The direction shows life through Ruby’s eyes and rarely diverts from this with only a handful of scenes not involving Ruby included in the film.
Emilia Jones takes on the lead role of Ruby and proves to be the perfect casting choice. Jones has been slowly adding to her resume in recent years, providing brilliant performances such as the lead character in Catherine Linstrum’s 2019 film, Nuclear. It is this film, however, that has proven to be her big breakout performance and even garnered Jones a BAFTA nomination for Best Leading Actress. Ruby is a great central character thanks to her relatability as an awkward teenager trying to fit in, but her situation as a CODA makes her the prime target for bullies in school. When she realises that she can sing and wants to embark on a music career, familial conflict ensues as she won’t be able to act as her family’s interpreter. Jones perfectly captures Ruby’s dilemmas and internal conflict as she strives to follow her own dreams.
One of the big reasons why CODA was able to secure financing was thanks to Marlee Matlin, who stars as Ruby’s mother, Jackie. Matlin made history as the youngest winner of the Best Leading Actress Oscar in the 1986 film Children of a Lesser God and her career has proven to be vast, spanning across film and TV. Jackie and Ruby’s relationship is highly turbulent throughout the film, as they don’t seem to have a lot in common. When Ruby realises that she loves to sing, Jackie can’t understand as she had planned Ruby’s role in the family business. Although the role is fairly small, Matlin makes the most of every second she is onscreen, and it’s clear that she is having a lot of fun in the role. What is great is how developed Jackie’s characterisation is as the mother-daughter relationship goes through highs and lows.
The highlight of the film is undoubtedly Troy Kotsur in the role of Ruby’s father, Frank. Every time Kotsur is onscreen, he commands attention thanks to the amount of heart and depth that he brings to the character. Frank’s financial and social turmoil are brilliantly chronicled in the film. What makes Frank such a brilliant character is the mix between humour and drama that he goes through, and his scenes are among the most memorable in the entire film. The scene in which Frank lectures Ruby and Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) on safe sex is among the funniest moment in the film. The scene following Ruby’s school performance, in which Frank asks her to sing the song from her recital while feeling her vocal cords. Through doing this, he is able to experience the emotions of the song, and it’s one of the best scenes in this Oscar race and is why he is deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
One important aspect of CODA is its soundtrack. The score is composed by Marius de Vries who incorporates calming, whimsical instrumental tracks that invoke the small fishing community which is then contrasted by an array of song covers that are beautifully sung by Emilia Jones and fellow members of the choir. The film’s climactic moment, in which Jones sings a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” as part of her audition for college will bring tears to your eyes as she notices her family in the audience and begins to sign the lyrics for them. The music is imperative to the plot of the film and in the end, is made inclusive for all characters and the way that this is done helps to bring the family together.
CODA has proven itself to be The Power of the Dog’s main competition and may even cause a huge shock by taking home the Best Picture Oscar next Sunday. Heder’s film is one that is filled with a lot of heart and amazing performances, especially by Kotsur, who is the favourite to bring home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and Matlin. Although some may find that the feel-good nature of this film is overwhelming, CODA has the performances and writing to back up a great story with a wonderful message. Although Ruby’s situation is not experienced by the majority of families, the familial conflicts and way that the relationships are portrayed feel universal and relatable.
What did you think of CODA? Let me know in the comments below!
CODA is available to watch on Apple TV+ now!