Volume 20, Issue 6
Featured in Upcoming Movies Part #1, yours truly had previously written the following in anticipation of the film: “Will you know the entire plot of the movie if you watch the trailer? Probably, but nonetheless it’ll be a likely effective and heart-warming film.” Boy oh boy is that selling this film short.
CODA is an acronym for a Child of Deaf Adults, and the protagonist of the film is the hearing daughter of a Deaf family, with Deaf parents and a Deaf sibling. All the deaf roles are, thankfully, portrayed by deaf actors, with Oscar winner Marlee Matlin (West Wing, Children of a Lesser God) and Troy Kotsur portraying the parents, and relative newcomer Daniel Durant as the brother. Understandably, this results in roughly 40% of the dialogue of the film being spoken in American Sign Language. The family operate a fishing boat and are heavily reliant on their hearing and high school aged daughter, Ruby, to successfully manage the boat, their income, and their wider lives. Ruby is played by the delightful Emilia Jones, a 19-year-old British actress who spent nine months learning ASL for the film. Unfortunately, Ruby has a true passion in the form of singing, leading to conflict with her family over both her and the family’s future.
There are some faults with this film. As alluded to initially, if you know the premise, and the fact that to some extent this is a coming of age film, you may be able to reliably predict the entirety of the plot. Furthermore, the film was produced for the relatively low figure of $10 million, meaning the production and general quality of the filmmaking does struggle at times, with the film looking quite ‘Netflix generic teen movie like.’ Quite frankly, these faults are absolutely and completely irrelevant for the simple reason this film will kill you with how heart-warming it is. Is the film trying to exploit your emotions with a generic plot you’ve seen before? Yes. Does it succeed in doing this? Overwhelmingly. Prepare the tear ducts because they’ll be fucking emptied. It might be overstating things to say that this film is a soul-cleanser, but I do truly believe that it achieves exactly that. It’s the exact type of thing that a cynical and borderline depressed law student needs to fight on another day.
Considering the media, culture, and Hollywood’s long-established association with representing minority voices and perspectives (sarcasm), it’s fantastic to see a recent appreciation for deaf stories in films such as CODA and The Sound of Metal. As mentioned earlier, and without turning this into a Sound of Metal hate piece, a key difference between the films is that CODA exclusively features deaf actors portraying Deaf characters. In my humble opinion, this is greatly advantageous for CODA, as the deaf actors bring a depth to their performances unavailable to those who are incapable of truly connecting with Deaf characters. This enhances not only the conventional acting, but it adds an extra element and extra flair for the Deaf characters of an individualised and adapted means of ‘speaking’ their dialogue through their sign language. That is, the way the sign language is ‘spoken’ changes to reflect the moods and thoughts of the characters in what I imagine must be a heavily authentic manner.
While 40% of the dialogue is in sign language, this presents the same difficulties as watching a subtitled foreign film, and by that I mean none. The acting of the sign language further makes this no barrier at all, as the abilities of the deaf actors to portray their characters emotions and thoughts results that in large sections the subtitles are borderline not even necessary. As outlined, our protagonist has an affinity for singing, and consequently the success of the movie arguably entirely hinges on whether said singing is of impressive quality. Thankfully, the voice of (I assume) actress Emilia Jones is fantastic, which strongly enlivens and heightens the stakes of the film, only causing more tears as it progresses towards the finale. So, if you love musicals you’ll really love this film, and even if you don’t you’ll still really love this film.
If the film didn’t catch me in my feelings as much as it did, I would be willing to write more about the fact it’s a remake of a French film. Furthermore, there is much to be said about a tech goliath like Apple potentially trying to enhance its image through filling a streaming service with as much deeply popular heart-warming material as it can get its hands on, however again I don’t care (which is probably exactly what Apple wants).
The film’s simply great. It’s only available on Apple TV+, and you can get a free trial to watch it and avoid paying. Do yourself a favour and chuck it on.
Tim is a First Year Student