Siân Heder’s “CODA”: Film Review

CODA is the acronym for a Child of Deaf Adults. Yet the film’s title is also a label that Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) has carried around all her life. Ever since she learned how to talk, Ruby has been translating for her parents and brother. For Ruby, CODA is a scarlet letter; a burden that prevents her from being popular or living out her fantasies. She has pushed her identity down deep her entire life to try and sound like how society wants her to, so that her family can continue to pursue their fishing business. The immense responsibility Ruby has between being her family’s advocate and her studies makes it almost impossible to even think about the future.

The only things that keep this troubled youth going are the soulful melodies of Etta James and Marvin Gaye. Ruby’s singing on the fishing boat every day is her primary means to escape the reality of her life. It’s that passion that attracts the attention of choir teacher Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), or Mr V. for short. Mr V. sees potential in Ruby that she doesn’t even see in herself. His guidance and validation opens Ruby up to a world and a future she never could have imagined. He allows her to embrace the beautiful and ugly sides of her identity in a way her well intentioned parents never could.

Ruby’s need to help her family has grown to the point where it is actually harming them. Similarly, the Rossis have relied on Ruby for so long that they struggle to work in hearing environments without her. The relationship has devolved into a codependency that strips the entire family of their own personal identity. It’s so incredibly simple to fall into patterns that, while they may have been beneficial for a time, end up doing more harm than good in the long run. CODA is a reminder that although the challenge may be immense, everyone has to evolve and not stay so firmly rooted in the past.

While CODA describes Ruby’s status as an individual, the word also stands for the end of a piece in the musical world. The title of Heder’s film signifies that what the audience is witnessing is the end of a phase of Ruby’s life. The future could be very bright for Ruby Rossi, but for this film, the audience gets to relish in the final moments of the protagonist being solely labeled as a CODA.

The Silver Lining

CODA is refreshingly sex positive for a PG-13 feature. Heder highlights the natural humor in hearing impaired situations without using the Rossi family as punching bags for cheap laughs. Scenes where Ruby has to translate to a doctor how her parents’ genitals itch, or when Ruby’s father, Frank (Troy Kotsur) gives her boyfriend “the talk”  are funny because the audience is laughing with the characters not at them. Last year’s excellent prestige drama Sound of Metal showed the complex struggles deaf individuals face, and CODA builds on that by showing not only their hardships but also their optimism and wisecracks.

CODA is available now to stream on Apple TV+.

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