CODA (child of deaf adults) is about Ruby, the only hearing person in a family of deaf people. Ruby has been her family's interpreter since the time she could speak, but as high school graduation looms, she is realizing she needs to make a choice, stay on with the family or go to college and study music. The film stars Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, John Fiore, Lonnie Farmer, Kevin Chapman, Amy Forsyth, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Eugenio Derbez, and Marlee Matlin. The film is written and directed by Siân Heder. The film is available to watch at home via Apple TV+, but if you are vaccinated and masked, I recommend finding a theater that's playing it.
Closed captions provide a transcript of speech and hints at music cues and can be turned on or off at will. Subtitles transcribe only dialogue spoken by characters. Open captions are an accessibility feature that is on the video itself, a part of the media, and it makes for a viewing experience that includes deaf and hard of hearing people as well as people whose first language may not be English. I mention all this because CODA is an open caption film and when you watch it, you will see all spoken, sung, and signed dialogue as well as some sound cues.
CODA is a terrific film. It's a story that is familiar, the outcast of the family, shouting, "I don't want your life," but brings us into an entirely new world. It's a coming of age for multiple characters and it's one of the best mentor/mentee dynamics in a long while. The cast is excellent and the script is funny, sweet, charming, heart breaking and up-lifting.
It's hard to go into too many details because I want you to see this film and I know people are sensitive about plot details, so I am going to describe a truly magical sequence of scenes within the film that highlight just how much of a divide there is between deaf people and hearing people.
At the fall concert, the Rossi family files in and takes their seats. While Mr. V gives an introduction, they sign to each other to see if any one can read his lips or understand the point he's making. Throughout the concert, the family is politely sitting there watching Ruby and the stage, but they also discuss things. They sign about what they should have for dinner and if Frank missed a button on his shirt and they try and take cues from the people around them as to what they should be feeling or reacting to.
It isn't until the scene shifts as Ruby and Miles get up to do their duet. All sound fades out and we're in Frank's perspective. He sees his daughter up there and he looks from his left to his right at the people in the crowd. He sees them smiling, nodding, and one woman crying at the song. It's all of a sudden apparent that he will never be able to share what Ruby loves, he will miss out on this part of her life and she's giving it up to help him and the family with the business.
The sound fades in again, the family applauds like the rest, but after that, when they're home, Frank has a concern. Ruby sits with him and he asks her if she can sing her song again. He asks her to sing loud and he puts his hands to her neck to feel the vibrations through her vocal cords. The two of them sit like that as Ruby finishes the song and the look on Frank's face is heartbreaking.
I describe this sequence not only because it is incredible emotionally, I was a complete puddle by the end of the film, but because it has that incredible filmmaking alchemy. Heder in combination with cinematographer Paula Huidoboro and editor Geraud Brisson take virtually the same shots of the crowd and the stage and reinterpret them, give them completely new meaning and emotional heft. With the scene at the car with Frank and Ruby they take the song we've heard many times and give it entirely new meaning, heft and impact. It's a terrific bit of magic.
The second heart of this film is the idea that Ruby has done something truly remarkable that has new meaning for her life and family. She has taught herself to sing and sing well without anyone having been around to hear her do it. There's an incredible scene between Ruby and Mr. V where they connect on the idea that English is his second language and for the most part, English is Ruby's second language as well. They connect the immigrant experience with the hearing person in the deaf community experience to bring another layer to why Mr. V wants to champion Ruby and why he pushes her so hard.
Though, all of that wouldn't work if the performances weren't incredible. Sincerely, some of the best acting in any movie this year. While I love the devastating Marlee Matlin, I have to highlight the impeccable Eugenio Derbez. Derbez infuses his comedic roots with passionate drama. His ability to connect with the movie is clear as he shifts his tone, his presence and steals every single scene he's in.
See CODA, just watch it and laugh, cry, and feel like there's hope out there in the world. It's a phenomenal movie with a unique and important voice. Seek out CODA however you feel most comfortable.