CODA is a coming-of-age comedy-drama film released in 2021 that follows a hearing adolescent who is the offspring of deaf adults (CODA for short). The film stars Emilia Jones as the hearing daughter, Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as her culturally Deaf parents, and Daniel Durant as her Deaf sibling, and is written and directed by Sian Heder. The film also stars Eugenio Derbez and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo.
The film was shot on site in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the United States, and is an English-language remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier, directed by Éric Lartigau. In terms of plot, both films are identical to the German film Beyond Silence from 1996.
CODA made its international premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 28, 2021. CODA’s distribution rights were purchased by Apple for a festival-record $25 million. On August 13, 2021, the film was released in theatres and through the Apple TV+ streaming service.
At first sight, you might think that Sian Heder’s “CODA” is all about formulaic rhythms that have been seen a million times before. After all, it follows a bright small-town girl from humble means who dreams of studying music in the big metropolis in a pleasantly familiar coming-of-age storey.
There’s an idealistic teacher, a charming crush, touching rehearsal montages, a high-stakes audition, and, of course, a family wary of their children’s dreams. Again, at first sight, you may believe you already know everything there is to know about this feel-good movie but it is the setting that makes it unique and arguably, ground-breaking.
Ruby Rossi is the sole hearing member of her family in Gloucester, Massachusetts; her parents Frank and Jackie, as well as her older brother Leo, are all culturally deaf. She helps out at the family fishing business and plans to work there full-time after she graduates from high school.
Ruby auditions for Bernardo Villalobos’ (or Mr. V’s) school chorus, but when she is called upon to sing, she panics and flees. She subsequently returns to Mr. V and tells him that she was bullied as a child for talking weird. After hearing Ruby’s lovely voice, Mr. V admits her into the choir and pushes her to be more confident.
For a duet at the upcoming choir presentation, Mr. V pairs Ruby with Miles, a fellow student. Mr. V urges that they meet together on their own to practise after their first performance goes poorly because they each prepare independently.
Miles is invited to practise at Ruby’s place, but they are disturbed by Frank and Jackie having sex in the next room. Ruby subsequently overhears peers criticising the incident behind her back in the cafeteria; Miles apologises for spreading the storey, but she refuses to speak with him. She forgives him eventually, and they restart their profession while developing a relationship.
Meanwhile, Frank and Leo are struggling to make ends meet in the fishing company as the local board imposes more taxes and punishments. Frank takes the floor at a board meeting and declares that he is forming his own company to circumvent the new limits and sell his fish on his own, encouraging other local fisherman to join him. Ruby helps the family get the business off the ground by talking to people and spreading the word.
Mr. V encourages Ruby to apply to Berklee College of Music and provides her private lessons to help her prepare for the audition. Ruby attends the courses with him, but she grows increasingly preoccupied with her family’s business. Mr. V becomes annoyed when she is often late and makes excuses, causing their lessons to be cancelled. He scolds her for wasting his time and accuses her of being uninterested in music.
Frank and Leo are apprehended by the Coast Guard while fishing one day after failing to respond to ship horns and radio calls. For their negligence, they are penalised and have their fishing permits revoked; they appeal and receive their licence back on the condition that they have a hearing person on board at all times.
Ruby informs her family that she will forego college and work full-time for the company. Her parents are encouraging, but Leo is enraged, saying that they can handle their difficulties without Ruby’s assistance.
Ruby’s family watches her choir presentation, and while they are unable to hear her sing, they are struck by the enthusiastic response from the audience. Frank invites Ruby to sing a song for him that night when he feels her vocal cords becoming emotional.
Ruby’s entire family then travels to Boston for her Berklee audition; they are not permitted to enter the audition hall, but sneak up to the balcony to watch regardless. Ruby is nervous at first, but as she meets her family, she gains confidence; she signs along with the song so that they can understand what she is saying.
Ruby is accepted to Berklee after some time; she shares the news with her family and Mr. V, who are all ecstatic for her, before inviting Miles to visit her in Boston. Meanwhile, the family’s fishing employees who are deaf have been studying sign language so that they can interact with and translate for the family. Ruby’s friend Gertie drives her to Boston for college while her folks wave goodbye; as they drive away, Ruby signs “I love you” to them.
Does Ruby get into Berklee?
Ruby did get into Berklee but the journey was not easy. Frank and Jackie were not amused by Ruby’s dream of leaving the family when she shared it with them. Ruby was angered by the communication, which resulted in a fight. She didn’t join Frank and Leo on their fishing trip the next day.
A sea monitor appeared on the same day for unknown reasons. Joanne, the sea monitor, who was unaware of Frank and Leo’s disabilities, became concerned and alerted the coast authorities. The federation revoked their licence and fined them heavily. They would only be able to pay off the bills if they allowed them to fish, Frank pleaded. The federation agreed on the premise that there would always be a hearing person on board.
Ruby realised that her family couldn’t afford a deckhand and chose to put her dream on hold for the sake of her family. However, Leo was irritated since Gertie (Amy Forsyth), Ruby’s best friend and Leo’s girlfriend, had previously informed him of Ruby’s present. Ruby, on the other hand, couldn’t abandon her family at a time when they needed her the most.
Ruby gave a beautiful performance at the annual fall concert, but her parents sat in silence. While Ruby performed, they talked about groceries. Director Sian Heder created a powerful silent passage from the perspective of Ruby’s parents, implying their separation from her skill or desire.
The hole was swiftly filled in an extremely moving sequence in which Frank places his hand on Ruby’s neck while she sings him a song. Frank couldn’t hear Ruby’s voice, but he could feel the vibrations it caused. As Frank saw what singing meant to his daughter, the intensity of emotions transcended the gap of infirmity.
The following day, Frank and his family drove Ruby to Boston, where she presented a rousing audition for Berklee College of Music. Even the toughest guy may be made to cry like a child by this soul-stirring performance. Ruby not only brought life to the words, but also interpreted them for her family, who were present in secret.
In the end, the family took Ruby’s advice and let go of their cynicism. They made an effort to befriend the community’s “hearing people” and welcome them as a part of their lives. The Rossi Family no longer required Ruby’s communication services and hence accepted her leave even before the audition results were announced.
Ruby was admitted into Berklee College of Music, and she embarked on a new chapter in her life. However, a part of her will always be in Gloucester, where her parents and lover, Miles, appreciate her.
What happens to the fishing business?
Since pretty much the beginning of the movie, the fishing business has been a big part of the plot so it is only natural that viewers would be invested in whether the business weathered the storm or if it was unable to.
We see the issue of new local fishing laws crop up and make the environment unsuitable for the fishing community which prompts Ruby’s father to set up their own company. Fishing enterprises struggle because the local board imposes increased taxes and punishments.
Frank declares at a meeting of the board that he is beginning his own company to tackle the new limits and to sell the fish himself and to invite other local fishermen to join him in the venture. The family strives to get Ruby to spread the information about the new business amongst everyone.
One day while fishing, after failure to react to ship horns and radio calls, Frank and Leo are intercepted by the Coast Guard. It is penalised and its fishing privileges are cancelled for negligence; they request and manage to have its licence back on condition that a listener is always onboard. Ruby then tells the family that she has left school and will be part of the company in full time.
However, we see in the end that the townspeople come together and the business stays afloat along with many of them learning sign language so that they can communicate with family while Ruby goes off to college.
Do Ruby and Miles kiss?
After getting off to a rocky start choir buddies who don’t understand each other and don’t even practise together, leading to a disastrous first performance, things only become worse before we see them take a turn for the better.
Ruby invites Miles to practise so that they can better their piece, but Frank and Jackie having sex loudly in the next room disturbs them, prompting Miles to leave. Ruby subsequently overhear peers in the cafeteria criticising the incident behind her back.
Miles then comes around and apologises for having spread the tale, but she does not want to do anything with him. However, she finally forgives him, and while creating a relationship, they restart their practise. We see a real growth arc for these two youngsters and the flowers of young love bloom.
And to answer the question, yes. Ruby and Miles share a butterflies inducing first kiss while swimming in the lake and it makes you all warm and cozy to see the young girl happy.
Should you watch it?
Jones is Ruby, a 17-year-old high-school student in Gloucester, Massachusetts, who gets up at the crack of dawn every day to assist her family—her father Frank played by Kotsur, brother Leo played by Durant, and mother Jackie played by Matlin—at their boat and newly established fish sales business. Heder is quick to give us a sense of Ruby’s daily routine.
As the only hearing member of the Rossi clan, she is used to being her family’s sign-language interpreter out in the world. She spends her days translating every scenario imaginable two ways: at town meetings, at the doctor’s office, and on the boat, where a hearing person must be present to notice the signals and coastal announcments.
To be fair, “CODA” is based on the French film “La Famille Bélier,” so the concept isn’t wholly original. The cast is what’s fresh here, and it makes all the difference in the world.
While the family in the well-intentioned original was portrayed by hearing actors (with the exception of the brother, who was played by deaf actor Luca Gelberg), they are all portrayed by real-life deaf actors in Heder’s film—a sensational cast that includes legendary Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, scene-stealing Troy Kotsur, and Daniel Durant—infusing her adaptation with a rare, inherent kind of kindness and authenticity.
Most importantly, she convinces us that the Rossis are a real family with real chemistry, real relationships and trials of their own, both unique and universal like any other family. The uniqueness of those everyday fights is shown through Ruby’s chosen path.
“CODA” is here to save the day for audiences tired of superheroic bombast and puzzling through art house arcana. It’s just the right amount of sweet, hilarious, thoughtful, and approachable. You’ll laugh, no doubt. You’ll cry. You’ll be able to accomplish both at once. “CODA” is exactly that kind of film. And that’s a good thing.