This movie… I don’t get it. The story is a pretty ordinary “I need to live my own life” coming of age tale; the path this movie takes is also predictable (her singing clashing with her family “responsibilities”), and that becomes a significant plot point later. The only difference is the CODA stuff (Child of Deaf Adults) thrown in. On paper, I’ve never thought that would make such a difference. But it did. Because CODA managed to do something extraordinary – the movie took almost every cliché in the book, every single turn this movie made you could see from a mile away and yet… I loved it. And what’s more, this is only the second movie ever in my almost 31 years on this planet that made me cry. Yep, only a second one.
The “wrinkle” that differentiates this film from any other coming of age story, the deaf aspect, was done well and with such care. It never felt “out of place”. And it’s easy to see why – the four main actors. Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant, three out of four family members, are deaf in real-life. And Emilia Jones is the only one in that family who isn’t. As the film title suggests, it’s mainly focused on Emilia (Ruby) and her journey, but, at the same time, not really. Because for this movie to work, you need to understand the family dynamic and the struggle of being the only hearing person and the responsibilities that “burden” brings upon your shoulders from a very early age. That was something CODA did so well. The family dynamic felt real, three dimensional and not forced. It’d be so easy to make one of her parents into a “villain” (and Marlee Matlin brilliantly dances on that fine line for her character), but they aren’t. Everybody’s reasons for their behaviour are valid to an extent, and you understand them.
I have always known the Oscars were not fair as there are so many actors and actresses who get “left out” every year. Well, after CODA finished, I felt weird. Because I thought I had seen one of the best performances in a film in the longest time and someone who should be a clear frontrunner, but then I check and discover she isn’t even nominated! Yes, I am talking about Emilia Jones. Because of what she needs to do in this film and what she had to do to even portray her character as realistically as possible (signing and singing lessons, operating a trawler)… my mind can’t comprehend that. The movie is about her, and for us to connect with her, she needs to hit every single mark every time. She needs to argue with her family and sign like she’d done it her entire life. I am not a deaf person, nor do I know ASL, but how she came across… I was stunned by her. Even now, when I think back to two specific scenes involving her character, the tears are creeping back because both times she commands the screen. But not in an obvious way, and she isn’t overshadowing her family. I honestly believe we will look back a few years from today and wonder, how is it possible she wasn’t nominated?
Another person I thought did an excellent job was Daniel Durant. Yet again, he could have easily been perceived or portrayed as a villain. But instead, because of his performance, you knew where he was coming from; you understood his anger. Because it was coming from a good place, I thought he did exceptionally well in his role and would love to see him getting more recognition because there was something about him. He took what could have been the thankless role and made it unforgettable.
I will put up the spoiler tag soon, even though I don’t think what I will discuss is a big spoiler. Because if you watch the film, you know those scenes are probably coming, but I would love for people to enjoy and savour those moments for themselves, so…
Beware, SPOILERS are coming!
Ever since Emilia’s character signs for the first, by herself in that quarry, I knew this movie had me emotionally. But as I alluded to this before, there were two scenes where it got me properly. The first one was the concert, following Emilia’s dad making her sing for him while he puts his hands on her throat and chest to feel the song. The concert scene is a powerful example of brilliant filmmaking. Because we’ve heard her practising the titular song for a while before, we know what’s coming. And then we watch her family throughout the concert, looking almost bored (talking… well signing about what to have for dinner and looking around). And then, it switches to their point of view, of complete silence and them looking around simply to watch how others react to their daughter singing. And how some people are moved to tears. That was a crushing moment when you understand she excels at something her parents will never be able to fully enjoy with her, even if they tried their hardest. And how it was in that concert, it clicked for her dad, realising his daughter got talent. Hence the scene after that where he wanted to “feel” her talent for himself. What a brilliant scene.
And, of course, the Berklee audition scene. Everything from her arriving late to Eugenio Derbez being there on piano and fucking up on purpose when he could tell she needed to start again… That was already magical. But when her family sat down and Emilia noticed and began to sign for them as she was singing the song… that is when a tear or two managed to escape my usually cold, dead eyes. Ok, they are not that cold or dead (at least I hope not), but plenty of movies have brought me to almost crying. But most of the time, I manage not to cry, or something doesn’t fully click with me to push me over the edge. In CODA, everything came together. What a beautiful scene.
Overall, CODA is a perfect example of using clichés to your advantage. As mentioned before, this movie isn’t original. I mean, plenty of people might not know this, but CODA is a remake of a French film La famille Bélier (2014) that was criticised for having only one deaf person in the leading role. So you can see, I am not being unfair by stating the fact it’s not original and full of clichés. If you have seen a few movies in your life, nothing about this will surprise you. BUT, how it goes about everything and how the film navigates these clichés to tell a unique story about a girl, who had to grow up a bit too fast, is the bit that made CODA my favourite movie of 2021. Yes, that might change as I have not seen many presumably top-tier films, but this experience will be hard to top. Super easy, wholehearted recommend. Please, do yourself a favour and watch this film.
That’s all for this one! Did you see it? What did you think about it? Let me know!
Until next time,