Director: Sian Heder
Writers: Sian Heder (screenplay), Victoria Bedos (motion picture “La Famille Belier”), Stanislas Carré de Malberg (motion picture “La Famille Belier”)
Stars: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur
By virtually all metrics and standards, CODA is destined to be the emotional heart of award season and the filmic cure to what has been—no doubt—an exhausting year. Child of Deaf Adults, the title stands for, and while the hearing audience may not be altogether familiar with this world, CODA wastes no time in acclimating us to the lives of Rubi and her family as she dabbles in a potentially life altering dream—a desire to sing, something her family cannot understand.
Another take on the coming-of-age high school drama is birthed new life within CODA’s expert script, masterfully adapted from French film La Famille Belier. The central difference between the two films lies in the casting in which CODA takes to feature real deaf actors who convey a poignant level of realism. But even beyond the believability of the circumstances, Rubi’s family is fleshed with vibrant performances, both hilariously relatable and often uniquely earnest, that showcase some of the best work of the year.
You will likely hear about Troy Kotsur in his magnetic display, his character, Frank, a father and the pivot point for some of the film’s most crucial drama. But even beyond Troy, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, Eugenio Derbez, and lest we forget the anchor Emilia Jones each coalesce to create the single greatest acting ensemble of the year. Yet beyond the casting, CODA succeeds predominantly in the story it aims to tell. A delicate first act that subtly weasels its way into your home, a poignant inciting arc with a dense central conflict, and at the most crucial moments when the future of these characters who have wormed their way into your heart is in the balance, CODA decides to rip you to emotional shreds.
First, there’s an auditorium scene, so perfectly directed to give both hilarious and heartfelt understanding to the most essential points of view. And then a scene by a car. A scene so perfect in its writing, performance, and its direction—beginning first from a distance and allowing us, along with the characters, to grow closer over the course of its intimate journey. And almost immediately after, a climax so rich in its scope that one could almost forget the numerous contrived conveniences that are allotted just for its emotional impact.
CODA may not be a perfect film. It certainly uses our love of these characters to its advantage in ways that may seem exploitative to the actual grounded foundation of the plot. But the point is deemed moot as the final scene plays in all its magnificent glory, a scene in which a line—a single word—is enough to make you cry. 9/10