Based on the 2014 film Le Famille Belier that was written by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carre de Malberg, and Eric Lartigau and directed by Eric Lartigau, CODA is the story of a young woman trying to balance her own life aspirations and her family’s struggling fish business while being the only person in the family that isn’t deaf. Written for the screen and directed by Sian Heder, the film is the exploration of a young woman who is given an opportunity to reach her dreams but also struggle with having to leave her family who are hampered by their own disabilities. Starring Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Eugenio Derbez, and Marlee Matlin. CODA is a riveting and somber film from Sian Heder.
Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the film is about a family of fishermen with a teenage girl being the only person in this family of four being the only person that isn’t deaf as she joins the school choir where her choir master is convinced that she has a chance to make it as a singer. It is a film with a simple premise as this young woman is torn between having to help her family who decide to start their own business but also go after her own dreams. Sian Heder’s screenplay is largely straightforward in its narrative as it play into the life of Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) who the youngest of two in a family of four that include her parents in Frank and Jackie (Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, respectively) and her older brother Leo (Daniel Durant). Ruby does a lot of interpreting for her family when it comes to business or health reasons though Leo wants to be more involving in handling the business.
Yet, the family is dealing with new sanctions that prevent them and other fishermen from making ends meet prompting the family to go on their own but also have to deal with authorities and such as their deafness makes them a liability. There is also this air of conflict where Ruby joins the school choir where its choirmaster Bernardo “Mr. V.” Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) notices that Ruby does have the talent as he trains her for an audition to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Even as she begins a relationship with classmate Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who is also trying to go to Berklee as it would take up her time from her duties with her family where they depend on her to communicate with those who don’t know how to do American Sign Language. Still, the family has to contend with the fact that they can’t depend on her all the time as Leo has managed to know a lot while is embarking on a relationship with Ruby’s friend Gertie (Amy Forsyth).
Heder’s direction is largely straightforward as it is shot on location in Gloucester, Massachusetts as it is a fishing town with many of the locals playing real people in the film. While there are some wide shots to get a scope of the location including a few shots in Boston for the film’s third act, much of Heder’s direction uses a lot of close-ups and medium shots. Notably in the latter with some medium-wide shots to a look into where the family eats and then move into a more straightforward medium shot as they all have a conversation though American Sign Language as Heder brought in Alexandria Wailes and Anne Tomasetti to help play into the usage of American Sign Language. Heder’s close-ups also play into how Ruby is so desperate is trying to communicate with her family but also feel burdened by them as they need her to handle things though there’s a moment in the third act with Leo as she becomes aware that he is trying to the one to step up and knows they can get someone else to talk for them. It does add to the drama as well as Ruby’s own desire to wanting to become a singer through Mr. V’s help as he is quite stern but is also understanding of her situation.
Heder also play into the perspective of how Frank, Jackie, and Leo see things even though they couldn’t hear yet Frank likes gangsta rap music because he can feel the vibrations of it. Their deafness may not have them be part of this community of fishermen yet they accept him when he’s against these newfound sanctions as it is a slow process for them to be accepted as well as learn how to communicate with them. The film’s third act is about Ruby’s desire to wanting to go to Berklee as her family are reluctant with Jackie admitting her own selfishness about Ruby as well as her own faults relating to her own relationship with her mother. The third act also play into a family taking the next step not just for themselves but also for Ruby in her need to find herself but with her family’s support. Overall, Heder crafts a touching and engaging film about a deaf family and their non-deaf daughter who is striving to find her own voice.
Cinematographer Paula Huidobro does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward in capturing the vibrant daytime exterior scenes of the sea along with some low-key lighting for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Geraud Brisson does nice work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few montages to play into the evolution of the story. Production designer Diane Lederman, with set decorators Vanessa Knoll and Amy Morrison plus art directors Paul Richards and Jeremy Woolsey, does brilliant work with the look of the house that the Rossi family live in as well as the fishing ports where fishermen sell their fishes. Costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with the exception of a red dress that Ruby wears for her school performance.
Visual effects supervisor Francois Trudel does terrific work with the film’s visual effects as it is largely bits of set dressing for a few exterior scenes. Sound designer Paul Lucien and sound editor Martin Pinsonnault do amazing work with the sound in not just the way sound is presented on a natural location but also the usage of no sound to get a perspective of Frank and Jackie are seeing. The film’s music by Marius de Vries is wonderful for its low-key piano-based score with elements of orchestral touches while a lot of the music performed on the film is all presented on location with performances of songs by David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, and Kiki Dee while music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas creates a soundtrack that features an array of music including the Clash, the Shaggs, Etta James, Black Oshin, Soul Exotics, Horslip, and Dave Chafin.
The casting by Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood, and Lisa Zagoria is superb as it feature notable small roles and appearances from Rebecca Gibel as a government official monitoring what Leo and Frank does, John Fiore as a foreman at a fishing factory, Lonnie Farmer and Kevin Chapman as a couple of fishermen who aren’t friendly with Frank at first until he rebels over the sanctions, and Molly Beth Thomas a mean girl that Ruby doesn’t like. Amy Forsyth is fantastic as Ruby’s friend Gertie who begins a relationship with Leo despite not knowing sign language as she also helps the family out. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is superb as Ruby and Gertie’s classmate Miles as an aspiring musician whom Ruby has a crush on as he is eager to go to Berklee as he gets to know Ruby and her family. Eugenio Derbez is excellent as Mr. V as the school’s choir teacher who is this passionate and exuberant figure that sees something in Ruby but also implores her to take her love of singing seriously as there’s elements of humor in Derbez’s performance but also a lot of heart from a man who sees someone that has a gift.
Daniel Durant is fantastic as Ruby’s older deaf brother Leo as a young fisherman who loves to fish but wants to do more whether it is to socialize or handle the business as he is also aware of Ruby’s passion and feels like he’s holding Ruby back. Marlee Matlin is amazing as Ruby’s mother Jackie as a housewife who prefers to drink wine and have sex with her husband while is reluctant to socialize with those who aren’t deaf where she does realize her own faults in not opening herself up to others. Troy Kotsur is incredible as Ruby’s father Frank as a fisherman who owns a fishing boat as it is all he knows but is also eccentric as he doesn’t try to be a bother to anyone until sanctions emerge where his defiance gains him allies while he also contends with Ruby’s own desires as he is conflicted in letting her reach her own dreams but also needing her for his own business ventures. Finally, there’s Emilia Jones in a brilliant performance as Ruby Rossi as the sole member of her family that isn’t deaf as she often deals with having an odd family but also being overwhelmed in helping her family while realizing she has a voice and wants to use to reach her own dreams as it is a somber and lively performance from Jones.
CODA is a sensational film from Sian Heder that feature great performances from its main ensemble cast including Emilia Jones and Troy Kotsur. Along with its naturalistic images, touching music soundtrack, and an engaging coming-of-age story that explores an unusual family dynamic. It is a film that is sort of a conventional family comedy-drama but it also has a lot of heart as well as being unconventional in telling the story of a family that largely consists of deaf people just trying to live their own lives and become part of a bigger community. In the end, CODA is a phenomenal film from Sian Heder.
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