Movie Review: CODA

My taste in films tends to skew towards projects with something edgy or strikingly unique about them, or those with a strong artistic voice. But sometimes, it’s nice to watch a movie that is comfortingly ordinary. Especially when it’s as well made as CODA.

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of her family. Her days are full as she balances her senior year of high school with helping her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) on their fishing boat. She fills her calendar out even further when she decides to sign up for the school choir to get closer to her crush, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Instructor Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) however, quickly learns that she is a gifted singer and wants to tutor her separately so that she might get into the Berklee College of Music, much to the consternation of her mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin).

The experiences of deaf Americans and their hearing relatives are poorly represented on our screens, both big and small, so it is refreshing to see them handled so well here. The general beats of the overarching story may be more than a little familiar, but the clever and graceful handling of deafness makes it stand out. Seeing how the family is treated by their community and how they deal with their own perceptions of that treatment gives the film more emotional heft than it might otherwise have had. Likewise, it’s hard not to get at least a little teary-eyed when we experience Ruby’s big debut choir performance through the eyes and ears of her parents as they try to figure out if she is any good and share in her joy when they determine that she is.

This isn’t the sort of movie with lots of flashy directorial touches or carefully orchestrated set pieces. It is however, a sweetly effective little drama about a girl coming of age and learning to accept her gifts with a loving family who are only trying to do right and get by in an often cruel world, anchored by several great performances. At its core it may be a story that we’ve all seen before, but it’s also one that when done right can still pack a punch. ★★★★

Rated PG-13 for strong sexual content and language, drug use.

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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