- Hamish Hart
CODA (2021) Review
SOMETIMES a formulaic endeavour comes along that manages to surpass all perceived expectations, proving that any film can achieve greatness and prosper because of its simplicity rather than despite it. However, even the most people-pleasing films can have their problems; minor though they may be.
Based on the French film La Famille Belier, CODA follows Ruby (Emilia Jones), a high schooler on the cusp of graduating who is also the only hearing member of her deaf family, acting as their translator for majority of her life. When an opportunity opens up for her to follow her passion of music, Ruby finds herself conflicted between following her deep passion of music and abandoning her family, especially when their fishing business is threatened.
On the surface a film like this shouldn't have worked due to its unrelenting corniness and familiar familial story arcs. But just like the characters in the film, CODA continually tugs at the heart strings in no short part thanks to the authentic performances given by four family members. Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant do a wonderful job as Ruby's mother and brother respectively, however, it's Troy Kotsur as Ruby's deaf father who delivers the film's greatest performance. Kotsur expresses authentic, unremitting emotion through his scarily realistic facial expressions and the vexatious manner in which he utilises sign language, allowing hearing and deaf audiences to easily understand the situations and arguments being translated, making the film even more accessible than its wholesome concept allows it to be.
There are a plethora of reasons why CODA flourishes as an accommodating, heart warming crowd-pleaser. However, the film's minor imperfections ultimately stem from its ability to hit too many right notes, leading to a number of people-pleasing contrivances, which in the end, do as much harm as they do good; a double-edged sword in the best possible way. Moments such as the tear-jerking scene of Ruby singing to her father all while he holds his hand up to her throat in order to feel her gifted voice, as well as Ruby first discovering her love for music all do wonders for CODA, but these scenes are also accompanied by moments of awkward attempts at humour and predictable emotional beats that wouldn't look out of place in the most sappy teen romance.
CODA is far from a perfect movie, but in a weird way, is so close to being flawless; it's a film that exudes genuine emotion and personality while also associating itself with foreseeable outcomes. Kotsur and Jones shine as the film's premier stars, carrying much of the story with sincerity and charm, all while being led along by director Sian Heder to produce a near-perfect people-pleaser that hits all the right notes in the most silent of moments.