This is a story of Ruby, who happens to be what we term as a CODA (child of deaf adults). What makes it more unusual is that Ruby is the only hearing member in her family where both her parents and her elder brother are also deaf. This demography alone makes the familiar teenage romance and coming of age family drama feel fresh and original all over again. It is probably the first modern day movie that depicts deaf people in a realistic way. The family of Ruby is played by real life deaf actors, led by Marlee Matim, who is arguably the most successful deaf actress today having won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God. Apparently she insisted that her fellow cast members playing the rest of the deaf members in the family be played by real life deaf actors. Her demand paid off because the performances from the deaf actors (Troy Kotsur as the father, and Daniel Durant as the brother) simply came across as being so real and believable. We can truly identify with the struggles that these people face in a world where everyone around them can hear. At the same time we marvel at the ease they communicate with each other and how they survive and make life work for them. I can honestly say this is the first time I see / “hear” profanities being uttered in sign language! Thanks to the subtitles!
Having a daughter who is the only hearing member of the family has its unique advantage and disadvantage as the movie so vividly captures through the trials and tribulations faced by Ruby. Her struggles with being ridiculed at school, her failure at romance, her conflicts with trying to fulfil her ambition to study music and providing support to her family’s fishing business, form the structure of the storyline. Young actress Emilia Jones is perfectly cast here. She also seem to have perfected the act of sign language for the role. The scene where she sings and combines it with sign language for her deaf family to “hear” and enjoy is probably one of the most touching moments in the film. Get your box of Kleenex ready folks!
CODA is a triumph for writer, director Sian Heder, as it had garnered universal recognition since its premiere in last year’s Sundance Film festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize! It is in practically every movie reviewer’s top 10 list for 2021 and just recently won three Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture and one for Supporting Actor for Troy Kutsur. I have to say I agree with the critics this time, and 100% support the accolades bestowed upon CODA. This is a rare achievement and I certainly hope to see more from Sian Heder.