FlixChatter Review: CODA (2021)

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I’ve been anticipating CODA since it’s triumphant premiere at Sundance earlier this year. The title refers to Child of Deaf Adults and it centers on a high school teen Ruby (Emilia Jones, phenomenal), the only hearing member of the Rossi family. Ever since she was a kid she’s been serving as the interpreter for the family in Gloucester, Massachusetts where they run a fishing business. 

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Right from its opening scene of her on a boat with her brother and father, I immediately sympathize with Ruby who looks wiser beyond her 17-year existence she lived pretty much with her family. What her brother and parents don’t realize, which is totally understandable, is that Ruby loves to sing. She sings while she’s on a boat fishing and she later joins the choir club at school. Despite Ruby’s initial shyness where she bolted out of her first class, soon her choirmaster/music teacher Bernardo Villalobos aka Mr. V (a vivacious Eugenio Derbez) discovers she’s got a really good voice. So good in fact that he selects her and a fellow pupil Miles (Sing Street’s Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) to do a duet for the choir event and even offers to train her for the Berklee College of Music. The more music becomes a bigger part of Ruby’s life, the more she is torn between pursuing her passion and her duty for her family.

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Writer/director Sian Heder sets up the world building of Ruby’s world so wonderfully. I really appreciate her portrayal of the deaf individuals in the way that they don’t see themselves as disabled. They just live their lives differently from the hearing folks but it doesn’t mean their lives are less fulfilling. There’s a moment where Miles remarks admirably about Ruby’s family in that she has a house that feels like home and parents who love each other. Despite their hardship and facing all kinds of business challenges, the Rossis face their struggles together as a family should be. It’s perhaps one of the loveliest portrayal of an American family that feels organic and authentic.

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It’s a credible glimpse into a life I’m not familiar with, told from the perspective of a young woman who’s just coming into her own. There’s a scene between Ruby and Mr. V where she said that she’s never done anything without her family before which I find so genuinely moving. There’s something so earnest and matter of fact about how Ruby approaches things that I find so endearing, even inspiring. I think teenagers often get a bad rap in the way they’re portrayed in the movies, that they’re lazy, entitled and clueless. Well, let’s just say Ruby isn’t your typical teenager and she leads a pretty tough life as a young girl, balancing school and her family business, even waking up at 3 am daily to go fishing.

I’m glad Heder cast actual deaf actors to make up Ruby’s family. Troy Kotsur is especially delightful and hilarious as Ruby’s dad Frank, providing such comic relief with his intensely-elaborate ASL signing. Marlee Matlin is quite a revelation in a role as a working-class wife Jackie with an unabashedly sexual relationship with her husband. Daniel Durant also has some memorably defiant moment as Ruby’s brother Leo. Walsh-Peelo didn’t get as much to do here as he did in Sing Street, but he’s got a sweet presence as Ruby’s boyfriend.

Derbez is absolutely fun to watch as Mr. V who balances his enthusiasm for Ruby’s talent with some tough love. I wish I had a teacher half as fun and supportive as him. Now, the star of the show is definitely Emilia Jones who I found out after watching the movie is a Brit!! I was totally floored by her performance, not only does she have to master an American accent, she also has to learn ASL for the film. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance and I hope she won’t get forgotten come award season.

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I’ve since learned that CODA is actually an English-language remake of the 2014 French-language film La Famille Bélier. Apparently the French film producer himself approached Heder to direct the remake but wishes that she makes the film unique for the American audiences. Well, Heder certainly did an astonishing job reinventing the story and making it her own. The pacing and the way she structures the story works really well in that it immediately immerses you in the character’s journey. The sound design is fantastic as well, I especially love how the sound is completely turned off during the duet scene as the camera pans to Rossi’s family watching her perform… putting us in their shoes so to speak where they can’t hear anything during that segment is powerful and deeply moving.

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Heder also peppers the film with plenty of memorable moments I know I’ll remember for years to come, such as the tender moment Ruby and her dad share sitting on their truck under the stars following the choir. Frank asks her daughter to sing and he holds her neck to ‘hear’ the vibration as she sings to him. It’s a genuinely sweet father/daughter moment that also bridges the gap between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf.

I’m not surprised Apple snatched the film at Sundance for a festival-record $25 million. I sure hope Sian Heder continues to get prominent work in Hollywood and that there’ll be more opportunities for deaf talents in the industry.

4.5/5 stars


CODA is released on AppleTV+ on August 13.


Have you seen CODA? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Sing Street (2016)

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Ahhhh… the 80s. Duran Duran, A-Ha, Spandau Ballet, The Cure, etc. I grew up with the bands featured in this movie, which adds the enjoyable quotient tenfold for me. I discovered John Carney a bit late as I saw Begin Again first a couple of years ago, then rented Once after that. I absolutely loved both of them, though Begin Again felt a bit more Hollywood given that it’s got bigger stars like Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, so I’m glad he returned to his Irish roots in his latest.

Set in Dublin in the mid 80s, Sing Street‘s tagline says ‘Boy meets girl, girl unimpressed, boy starts band’ and the movie is exactly what it says on the tin. The boy is Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a 15-year-old boy who turns to music to escape his strained family life as his parents are going through a divorce. It’s certainly a story anyone can relate to, I mean we’re all teenagers once too. It’s especially tough when teens have to switch schools and that’s what happens to Connor when he’s sent to an inner-city public school to save money. That’s where he meets the mysterious girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton) with big dreams of becoming a model in London.

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The whole process of Connor and his new pal Darren forming the band is such a joy to watch. Of course being a movie it all feels fairy-tale-ish how it came together, but it’s got such an infectious charm that got the whole theater in a jolly mood. The boys in a band have such quirky personalities, one of my fave parts was in Eamon’s (Mark McKenna) house when he showed off his abilities to play multiple instruments. But all of the music videos they’re filming are such a hoot, as the boys assumed different personas of famous bands from that era. I think my fave look is when the boys were rockin’ the guyliner and teased hair inspired by The Cure. The young actors (except for Boynton who I had seen in BBC miniseries of  Sense & Sensibility) are all unknown. In fact, this is 16-year-old Ferdia’s acting debut, though he had stage and opera experience. The fact that the actors did their own singing certainly adds to the authenticity of the story.

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All the musical performances are definitely the highlight, though there are poignant moments throughout. Kids get bullied in school from fellow students and strict teachers (which I could relate to as I went to an all-girl Catholic high school) and of course, dealing with the broken heart of first loves. The romance between Connor and Raphina is sweet despite being rather mawkish at times. I think the relationship between Connor and his down-on-his-luck older brother Brendan (played affectingly by Jack Reynor) is more memorable. Connor looks up to Brendan who teaches him all there is to know about rock ‘n roll ‘No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins.’ Ha! Yet in a way, Brendan also lives vicariously through his naive-yet-driven younger brother and in the end was inspired by him.

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I had such a blast watching this movie, in fact it’s one of the most joyful films I’ve ever seen. This is apparently semi-autobiographical for writer/director John Carney and it’s the perfect love letter to the 80s and the power of music. For anyone who’s used music or other forms of art to escape the harsh realities of life will be swept away by the infectious optimism of this movie. The way he integrates music into the storyline is unlike any other filmmaker working today. I definitely will do a Music Break post with my favorite tunes from the movie. In fact, I was listening to the songs as I was writing this review and can’t wait to re-watch this movie again.

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Have you seen ‘Sing Street’? Well, what did YOU think?