Siân Heder Stuns Directs Pitch Perfect Deaf Dramedy with CODA
Not long ago, I interviewed Sound of Metal’s Paul Raci (whose father was deaf). He shared the most comical story about his joy in signing episodes of Bonanza for his Dad where he would make up his own narrative and how he headlines a rock band with performances specifically geared toward the deaf community. In that moment, I was reminded of what I already know to be fact. A handicap is only a hinderance if you allow it to permeate your life in that manner.
17 year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of a deaf family. Her mornings, before school, are spent helping her parents and brother keep their Gloucester fishing business afloat. Clocking a really cute dude (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) in school who has signed up for choir club, Ruby follows suit finding herself drawn to both her duet partner and her passion for singing. Through tough love, showered from her enthusiastic choirmaster Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), his encouragement for this buddy songbird to consider music school and a future beyond fishing, leaves her torn between obligation of family and pursuit of her dream.
CODA has heart, grit and an insight into a community we rarely see depicted on screen.
Just as with Black, Latino or Asian characters, we are often seen and written from a gaze that isn’t anywhere close to our reality. Yet, this CODA captures every drop with humor and pride that exuding from a cast primarily made up of deaf actors including Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin.
You heard it from The Curvy Critic first. Marlee Matlin and Emilia Jones dominating the conversation for awards season. Matlin, the controlling, yet loving and sensuous mom displays a range that most of Hollywood has not allowed her to unleash. As a real life mother of three, Matlin more than adequately taps into the frustration of being a sibling buffer. At the same time, the love and playfulness seen between her and hubby (Troy Kotsur) is the most refreshingly original married couple interaction I’ve seen on screen in quite some time. Kotsur and Matlin’s chemistry is undeniably palpable and sheer exuberance to witness. They literally steal every scene whether they are in it together or separately. Daniel Durant (Leo Rossi) playing the angst, jealous, frustrated older brother is no slouch either. His scene with Emilia (Ruby) fighting over the family’s lack of faith and support in his ability to communicate for them without being able to hear is an intense interaction every sibling on the globe could relate to on a visceral level.
However, it the performance of Emilia Jones that turns the dial all the way up. Faced with the daunting task learning to fish, sing with heart and deliver the acting goods to back up all up is present on every level humanly possible. What she accomplishes is no easy feat, yet she makes it look like a stroll in the park. There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language that will EVER do her performance justice. It really is pitch perfect (no pun intended)
Former Orange Is The New Black writer Siân Heder’s exuberant direction authentically conveys a layered, nuanced, brutally honest and hilarious writing and directing style that uncovers perfection in richly drawn characters. Scenes like Frank (Troy Kotsur) illustrating the proper way to “put a tent on that soldier” or where he attempts to feel what others hear when Ruby sings by gently placing his hands around her neck to feel the vibration all the way down to Matlin’s monologue about the fear of birthing a hearing child and that standing ovation moment as Emilia Jones signs and sings (eerie reminiscent to Sara Bareilles) an old Joni Mitchell classic to her family watching in the balcony, Heder and her cast nail every moment with perfection
Based on the award-winning French hit La famille belier, this film will send you through a rollercoaster of emotions. For me it was mostly the ugly cry and the last time I was moved to tears like this was with last ‘The Farewell.’ Like they say in the film, “…there are pretty voices with nothing to say and other with something to say.” CODA says it like no other addressing deaf discrimination that will have tongues wagging for decades.