Sundance 2021: CODA

Emilia Jones appears in CODA by Siân Heder, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

CODA is a crowd-pleasing film that will bring about tears and laughter by the end in telling a heartwarming story on screen.

I regret that I almost didn’t even watch this film on Opening Night.  In glancing at the comedy listings, I saw CODA listed and the rest is history.  But in all fairness, this isn’t only a comedy but mix of drama and coming-of-age story, too.  At the end of the day, it’s still a film for entire families to enjoy.  Well, if you can deal with the raunchy humor that comes during the third act.  This is probably one thing that whoever distributes the film will have to appeal.  One F bomb gets you a PG-13 at minimum but any more is an automatic R.

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is a senior in high school but her days are not like most.  No, the Gloucester senior wakes up at 3 AM.  She’s the hearing deck hand on the fishing boat where she works with older brother Leo (Daniel Durant) and father Frank (Troy Kotsur).  Both Leo, Frank, and Ruby’s mother, Jackie (Marlee Matlin) are all Deaf.  Hence the film’s title of CODA, which means Child of Deaf Adults.  Because she is the only hearing person in her family, Ruby must spend every day as their interpreter.  But for all of this, she also wants to enjoy her remaining childhood.  The family business is one thing but Ruby also wants to sing.

While at school, Ruby decides to sign up for choir.  This is, in part, because she’s crushing on Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo).  There’s a lot of chemistry between the two of them as you’ll see during the film.  But what we do not expect is the bond with Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez).  If I had a music teacher like Mr. V, maybe my life would have been different.  All that is to say that Mr. V makes music class interesting.  He sees something in Ruby that she probably doesn’t see in herself.  And so he trains her for an audition at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.  At the same time, family issues get into the way with Ruby so often that you think she might give up on singing altogether.

Emilia Jones puts in the work.  Prior to being cast, she had never studied sign language.  Even though she only had marginal experience as a singer at the time, you wouldn’t know it from watching her performance on screen.  She is simply phenomenal.

Casting-wise, we’re able to buy into the Rossis as a family in general.  They have chemistry on screen.  Daniel Durant previously acted opposite both Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin.  When you have previous experience working together, it really brings about a whole other layer of chemistry on screen.  All in all, there is so much love that goes into these perfornances.

I cannot tell you the number of times that I was laughing during one moment and crying the next.  Whoever acquires this film will not regret it.  It’s such a beautiful film that I cannot wait to laugh and cry again.  Seriously.

Writer-director Siân Heder bases her script on French film La famille belier.  Change the setting from dairy farmers to a fishing family but the award-winning French film gets a heartwarming U.S. adaptation.  Heder keeps some of the moments that she loves while truly making this film its own thing.  There is so much heart and soul in this film.  I can’t get enough of it even if it means crying again.

CAST:  Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin

CODA holds its world premiere during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.