Writer/director Sian Heder’s fantastic “CODA,” streaming on Apple TV+ this week, had already made some front page buzz before its release. The most noticeable is Apple acquired the rights at Sundance with a record-breaking $25 million deal before it won four awards at the festival, including Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. “CODA” – stands for Child of Deaf Adults – is sweet and smart, and very easy to predict. Delivering the messages of finding your true identity and making your own future, Heder’s script hits on every familiar beat of family and coming-of-age drama. At first glance, it seems like a tale that you’ve seen thousands of times before, but that is actually the formula that makes “CODA” lovely and miraculously brilliant.
The flawless Emilia Jones plays a smart, shy, and likable teenage girl named Ruby, who lives in a small fishing town with her family. She jumps on the boat and goes fishing with her father (Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) every morning before the sun comes out, and then goes to school where other girls make fun of her smell.
Basically, Ruby is a very typical girl you’ll see in every teenage film. Oh, and did I mention she also loves to sing? However, there’s a slight difference here. Her family are all deaf: her father, brother, and mother (played by the legendary Oscar winner Marlee Matlin), so in the family, no one can hear or even appreciate her passion for singing. What makes her life worse is while she’s dreaming of attending a prestigious music school, her family needs her to be the bridge between the two worlds which she has to translate the sign language to others, and spoken words to her family. Will Ruby eventually breaks free from her family? Or will she put her family first then dream the second?
Adapted from the touching and funny French film “La Famille Bélier,” Heder’s American version adaptation has another buzz-worthy choice in which she cast real-life deaf actors in the film that make the character come to life with multiple layers. Your heart will fell for their powerful and emotional performance, and you will definitely feel the chemistry between them. The way Heder crafts this family comedy-drama is just exciting to watch, and those bittersweet scenes she pulls off will crush your soul. There’s one during the concert where all sounds vanish (the soundtrack… genius!), and there’s another where the father “listens” to Rudy’s singing by putting his hands on her vocal cords.
With only one feature film “Tallulah” on her belt, Heder already proved that she got the talent as a filmmaker. Although “CODA” follows the formula closely, you will never experience a formula like this. Ruby, at first, struggles between two worlds and feels doesn’t belong to either of them, but Heder, in the end, shows that sound doesn’t matter. As long as we feel the love between families, whether you can hear or not, whether you can understand sign language or not, that’s the universal language that we all share in our hearts.
- Distributor: Apple TV+
- Production: Vendome Pictures, Pathé Films, and Picture Perfect Federation
- Director: Sian Heder
- Writer: Sian Heder
- Producer: Fabrice Gianfermi, Philippe Rousselet, and Patrick Wachsberger
- Cast: Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin
- “CODA” premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2021. Streaming on Apple TV+ and in select theaters August 13, 2021
Read the review in Chinese