It’s understandable if a degree of reluctance sets in when you hear of a film that was ‘the darling of Sundance festival’ having won three of the biggest prizes – U.S. Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, and a Special Jury Ensemble Cast Award. That’s after its having been scoped up by Apple two days after its premiere, for a record breaking $25 million dollars. A degree of scepticism is warranted and justified, if wholly unnecessary. This is one where the hype is truly justified; you’re in for a treat when this drops on Friday 13th August.
An English language take of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier, that is more reimagining than retake, CODA stands for ‘Child of Deaf Adults’. That child is Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her family. Her parents Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Frank (Troy Kotsur) are heavily dependent on her, at the growing resentment of her older brother Leo (Daniel Durant). In her final year of high school, with their family fishing business being threatened, an opportunity arises for Ruby to pursue her love of music – with the support of her music teacher (Eugenio Derbez) and crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). She’s torn between both worlds, fearful of abandoning her parents yet desperate to pursue her dream.
Although the narrative arc itself may sound familiar, in the hands of writer-director Sian Heder it becomes something near-transcendent; a timeless coming-of-age film that will appeal and resonate with almost everyone. The tone it perfectly weighted – powerful and profound, never preachy, yet also light and very, very funny. Over the course of the film’s 111 minute running time, we really feel like a part of the Rossi family – a connection that happens immediately and is devastating to leave behind once the credits role. They have been fully fleshed out, given great material and much to do. It’s also the performances.
There’s a naturalism and believability in every single one of the central performances, an ease and comfortability between them that is such a pleasure to watch. It’s what makes the joyful highs so wonderful, and the fraught lows hit so hard. Because there will be tears as well as laughs, a wonderfully balanced mix of light and dark – for the brightest lights do cast the darkest shadows. Jones carries all this weight on her shoulders with ease, with such an identifiable performance that brings the film to life. Add in the trio of Matline, Kotsur and Durant to bring some brilliantly believable bawdy humour (a highlight being the greatest sex talk with parents that has ever been seen on the big screen) and an incredible amount of heart, you’re into a total feelgood winner.
Touching, witty, sweet and hilarious; a perfect addition to the coming-of-age canon.