Wri/Dir.: Sian Heder; Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Dureant, Amy Forsyth, Eugenio Derbuz, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo; USA 2021, 111 min.
Teenage Ruby Rossi (Jones) is the only person in her family not afflicted by deafness in this fluidly amusing coming of age drama from American writer/director Sian Heder (Tallulah) winning Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Baftas 2022.
Ruby Rossi is not much of an academic in her last year at High School, so she’s decided to stick with the family business joining her father Frank (Kotsur) and brother Leo (Durant) who are independent fishermen, and mother Jackie (Matlin) who does the books. But the new music teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Derbez) discovers Ruby’s fine voice and coaches her for the entrance examines at a respected conservatoire in Boston. Love interest Miles (Walsh-Peelo) supports her, but Ruby is torn between a musical career and staying put – particularly since the Rossi’s and other fishermen are planning to break away form the corrupt wholesale agency.
Refreshingly Heder avoids a didactic approach in CODA aka Child of Deaf Adults in a narrative that flows easily with its conflicting emotions, Ruby is not a victim, having to ‘translate’ for her family in sign language – she has a certain agency which she sometimes ruthlessly exploits. She disapproves of her parents’ loud lovemaking and brother Leo’s girlfriend Gertie (Forsyth) who is also over-sexed. When Gertie asks Ruby to tell her the sign language for “I love you”, Ruby shows her a completely different meaning: “I have herpes”. Leo is blown away by the “discovery”.
Set in a blue-collar community, CODA has a ring of true realism without being an agit-prop. DoP Paula Huidobro does a great job in the ‘action’ scenes on the fishing boat, as well as the close-ups. Inspite of the indulgent running time there’s never a spare moment, Heder lets her cast roam around in a feature of setbacks wild emotions; with the overly long drawn out happy-ending perhaps the only point of critique. CODA scooped three Oscars for its worthy topic more than anything else.AS
SIAN HEDER won Best Adapted Script BAFTA | TROY KOTSAR won Best Supporting Actor | EE BAFTAS 2022 | SIÂN HEDER’S CODA WINS 2021 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: LONDON AWARD PRESENTED BY BIFA |