CODA Review: Emilia Jones led family drama scores high on emotional quotient with its poignant performances

Updated on Aug 14, 2021 09:39 AM IST  |  226.9K
Emilia Jones in AppleTV+'s CODA releasing on August 13
CODA starring Emilia Jones releases on August 13 on AppleTV+


CODA Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin

CODA Director: Sian Heder

Streaming Platform: Apple TV+

CODA Stars: 3.5/5


As humans, we take most things for granted and one of them is also our ability to not only have a voice but to use it. In one of the scenes from Sian Heder's CODA, we are left pondering with this very question when Ruby Rossi's (Emilia Jones) choir teacher, Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) says, "There are plenty of pretty voices with nothing to say." It's one of the several introspective moments this film will leave you with as you get sucked into the story of the Rossi family and their CODA (Child of deaf adults) teenager, Ruby.

CODA, which is adapted from the French film, La Famille Bélier (2014) will leave you crying hard till the time you reach the film's climax. To put the film in a mere bracket of a coming of age genre would be unjust to the film's powerful performances which carry it across different genres ranging from a full-on family drama with comic relief that shines at most unexpected moments.

In CODA, Emilia Jones' Ruby is left to make the hard choice between her family and her newfound dream of music as she finds a way to use the voice that remains suppressed at home amid her hearing-impaired parents, father Frank Rossi (Troy Kotsur, mother Jackie Rossi (Marlee Matlin) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant). While Ruby realises that she's destined to sing, she is also caught up being the interpreter for her family. Ruby's main roadblock to achieving her dreams is the crisis faced by their fishing business which hits a setback owing government's changing rules. Not to mention how a disabled system that doesn't do enough to support deaf individuals and their businesses through any provisions is strongly presented. The film then shuttles between Ruby and her family's guilt as they try to hold onto each other in graver situations.


Sure, CODA has a story that seems formulaic and has a hangover of other teen dramas such as the 2016 film, The Edge of Seventeen but there's one thing you can't take away from this film and that's its treatment. After watching it, it comes as no surprise that the Heder film swept major honours at the Sundance Film Festival this year and also has a strong Oscar buzz.

One of the film's biggest assets happens to be its lead star Emilia Jones who breathes life into Ruby's character with much more nuance than the a run-off-the-mill teenage representation we often get with films focussing on a young adult. To match Jones' talents is also the Rossi family with Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant all bringing their A-game. It's hard to not take their family dynamic seriously, be it the fun banter over Tinder or the sex-ed class that Kotsur's character delivers in sign language after Ruby's male friend, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) finds himself at the chaotic Rossi home.


What Sian's screenplay deftly does is that it gives the viewers silences of Rossi family that speak more and need no sign language interpretation. It's as clever as the naming of the film that delivers two meanings which beyond its acronym, also is the summation of the film's pieces falling together towards the end, much like a musical coda, which simply means a passage that ends a piece. In a tear-jerking climax, Ruby's coda comes to her performance of Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now, which finds absolutely new meaning when put in the context of the Rossi family.

A few high-school drama cliches make their way in this film too, they manage to remain the only points that seem to remind us of how the film does ride high on formula and a storyline that we know far too well but also make us realise how not everything predictable may be bad after all.

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Sian Heder builds a film knowing that it will touch hearts on a human level than any of its technically crafted moments. Much like what one would say about Lee Isaac Chung's Minari, the film stays true to a unique family experience. Of course, the latter has a wider commentary to offer. As for CODA though, it's mainly about the Rossi family and their ways. From Ruby's heart to heart with her mother about whether she would have been happier had her daughter been deaf to the gorgeous opening sequence of the film that shows Emilia's Ruby indulging a carefree singing jig, it's the heart and emotion in every frame that makes it an irresistible watch.

Emilia Jones is a revelation and her journey seems to have just begun. Watch out for Emilia to become a frontrunner for roles that would find themselves in the same space as Saoirse Ronan. As for the film, with all its formulaic trappings, Heder presents a film that's flavourful in emotional authenticity. It's a family drama with a lesson on adulting that brings some pure voices, by making an offscreen point on representation for deaf actors (case in point, casting of Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, and Daniel Durant) and an onscreen lesson about never letting one's voice fade out no matter the circumstances.