One of the most emotional movies I have seen in a long time, Coda, which I learned stands for child of deaf adults, is sure to make you laugh and cry. Watching this deaf family, headed by Frank, the curmudgeonly father, played superbly by Troy Kotsur, negotiate the trials of their lives, is heartwarming as it captures love, laughs, and tears.
From the opening fishing boat scene, when daughter Ruby, played amazingly by Amilia Jones, belts out an Etta James song, music builds her confidence and changes the trajectory of her life. Watching the signs for different words is interesting and more comprehensive than I realized, demonstrated for example when brother Leo, played convincingly by Daniel Durant, signs “twat waffle.”
When Ruby’s parents, Frank and Jackie, played to perfection by Marlee Matlin, roll up to school to pick Ruby up, she cringes as their gangsta rap loudly blares from the truck so that they can feel the beat. It’s interesting to note that Matlin only has a supporting role in this film. Phones aren’t allowed at the dinner table, except when the brother uses Tinder, because as Jackie points out, the whole family can participate in selecting for who to swipe right or left. There are some comedic scenes involving the doctor’s visit and sex talk.
Joining choir on a whim to be near a boy named Miles, played incredibly by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Ruby meets the music teacher, who the kids call Mr. V, played remarkably by Eugenio Derbez. Even after she runs out of the first class when everyone has to sing Happy Birthday to determine their vocal range, Mr. V sees Ruby’s remarkable talent. He ends up connecting with her, calling her Bob, and coaching her in preparation for a scholarship audition for the Berklee School of Music, which she had never previously considered. When she performs at a school concert, her family is in the audience disengaged, because they can’t hear, and then the film goes silent for part of Ruby’s duet with Miles, and you get to understand their experience.
Torn between the deaf and hearing worlds, Ruby must make tough choices that will impact her own happiness and the success of her family’s fishing business. In an especially touching scene, Ruby asks her mom if she wishes she was born deaf rather than hearing. The audition that almost didn’t happen is heartfelt, as she signs to her family during the song. You are sure to be choked up by the end when they all sign “I Love you.”
Saying only one word during the entire movie, Kotsur won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and his facial expressions did the talking as he experienced frustrations and moments of joy. He is the first deaf man to win an Oscar, and second deaf person, since Matlin won one in Children of a Lesser God in 1987. The film also won an Academy Award for Best Picture, which was the first from a streaming service, Apple TV. Written and directed by Sian Heder, this remarkable story is a remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Belier and garnered the 2022 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
An international collaboration between the US and France producer of the original film, Coda was filmed on location in Gloucester, Massachusetts and has some pretty coastal scenery. Other movie goers agreed that this extraordinary tale will tug at your heartstrings and is most enjoyable to watch in the cozy Village Theatre, with delicious, buttered popcorn and favorite beverage.
Movie times: Click here
Director: Sian Heder
Actors: Troy Kotsur, Emelia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, John Fiore, Eugenio Derbez
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (strong sexual content, language, drug use)