One of the sleepier films making top odds on the 2022 award circuit is CODA which came out in the Summer of 2021 on Apple TV. I missed it when it came out as did most American viewers. So when I saw it all over the Golden Globe and SAG Award list, I decided I needed to loop back and take a look at it for the FPF readers. Considering Power of the Dog swept the Golden Globes which were boycotted by celebrities on U.S. network television (for no reason that I can clearly figure out), CODA has a real chance at the Oscars who will almost certainly refuse to take the same path as the Globes.
So late to the party but in time for the cake, the Conservative Critic will ask: Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? Is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: CODA
Overall Rating: Extremely good
CODA is shorthand for “Child of Deaf Adults” which is the focus of the film’s story. CODA is a coming-of-age which follows a teenage girl, Ruby, who is the only hearing person in a family of deaf adults including her parents and her older brother. Ruby grapples with all the things a teen girl grapples within a small fishing town including meeting her parent’s expectations, finding her own passion, boys, high school bullies and more while put in the unique position of providing her family with a voice to the outside world.
CODA is extremely good. In the last few years, Hollywood has put forward a few thoughtful pieces focusing on deafness in North America, Sound of Metal, being a favorite of mine from the last awards cycle. What sets CODA apart is the lightness of the story. So beautifully made, viewers will dissolve into tears as Ruby deals with mean girls at school even as they rationalize that her problems are not a very big deal. Unlike its predecessors, the deaf individuals and Ruby in CODA deal with the same everyday issues all families deal with and the lens is not very different. Every family has a unique hurdle. Every teen bears the burden and privilege of choosing their path.
CODA manages to introduce viewers to problems a deaf family would have that perhaps a hearing viewer would never have thought of with a big sense of humor and a ton of heart. At no time are Ruby’s deaf parents made to be perfect saints and neither is Ruby. In true coming-of-age fashion, mistakes are made and lessons are learned. But the natural and steady progression of this growth is handled with such care and draws viewers into the little world of Ruby the CODA and her family in their small town.
CODA is sensational and a must-watch for awards season.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Charming and funny
One of the film’s greatest strengths is its sense of humor. Even inserting a tiny bit of carefully crafted slapstick, CODA is not afraid to recognize that life’s little problems are just that: little problems. But CODA also manages to draw viewers deep into the empathetic world of Ruby and her family. As she deals with the embarrassment of her parents, mean girls at school, broken hearts, and conflict with her loved ones, viewers can’t resist feeling exactly how she does which is deeply saddened and overwhelmed even though objectively the things she is facing are not particularly heavy.
The effect is much like the criminally underrated Edge of Seventeen. Viewers are allowed to remember in a very personal way what it was like to be a teenager but in this case have the privilege of asking: but what if all of that was true plus my whole family was deaf?
There is plenty of drama in CODA but there is a lot of mirth and plenty to relate to. It’s a fully entertaining film.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Rating: Both in spades
CODA has it all from script to performances to location. The screenplay was adapted from a foreign film, Le Famille Belier by Sian Heder and the adaptation makes a lot of important changes including the setting which is such a crucial piece of the film’s masterpiece. Heder sets the story in a fishing town where the Rossi family (Ruby’s family) runs a fishing boat. Heder incorporates a political story about corrupt government officials and unfair regulations which are particularly difficult for the Rossi family to navigate as deaf individuals. The pace is also very well handled, managing to create extraordinary feelings on ordinary days.
Unlike its French parent film, CODA made sure to cast deaf actors in the roles of the deaf characters. While not necessarily a requirement, hearing actors can and have played deaf individuals very well and vice versa, in the context of CODA, this choice provided a much deeper richness to the story where a hearing person could never really get fully into the shoes of someone who is deaf on this kind of “everyday” level.
Deaf or hearing, the performances were outstanding. Viewers have the privilege of witnessing several breakout performances as well as veteran strength. Relative newcomer, Emilia Jones (Locke and Key), as Ruby Rossi is sensational. One of the best performances from a young talent in a long time. She is rightly nominated for both a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award and a Critics Choice Award and will probably get an Oscar nomination. It was a treat to watch her take the reins of the story as the central character with the largest emotional arc.
Additionally, playing Ruby’s father, unknown Troy Kostur delivered big time on a hard-working, laboring, small business owning dad who grapples with the conflict of pride and fear as his daughter grows up and finds her own identity and as he finds his own voice in his community. He delivers one of the more moving scenes in the film and also rightly has earned the critical accolades with Golden Globe, SAG and Critics Choice Award nominations for his role.
Veteran actor and deaf community leader, Marlee Matlin (The West Wing, Switched at Birth) delivered as always as a mom learning to let go of her teenager. Eugenio Derbez as a music teacher, Mr. V, is nothing but energy and an important contrast to the other more subtle performances.
But one unsung breakout performance is that of Daniel Durant (Switched at Birth) who plays Ruby’s older brother, Leo who as a young adult is trying to make his mark on manhood and claim his right as a weathered fisherman and protector of his family all while perceiving his baby sister as the stronger sibling. Durant’s conflict between self-consciousness and masculine pride is brilliantly performed and is the edge in an otherwise fairly soft story. Durant didn’t receive any recognition from the award circuits so far which is a shame.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: Hard right lean
CODA leans to the right even though the central character is trying to go to music school at Berkeley University.
First of all, the family members are all hard-working small business owners who labor through the day. Working with your hands and operating a family-owned business is definitely something conservatives support.
Second, one of the central villains is the government. The town fishing auction (which is not the government but a kind of union) is allowing for unfair pricing because it’s anti-competitive. Second, the fishermen are being regulated out of the water with lower and lower fish quotas. The Rossi family stands up to the system and becomes a target by the government when a government inspector joins them for a fishing outing and intentionally sets them up to be boarded by the coast guard and charged for operating without a hearing individual on board (which is illegal – another questionable Government directive).
Between the contempt for anti-competitive union-type practices and the government and the celebration of hard work and family-owned business as well as finding your own path and standing up to social pressure, CODA is a lovely conservative friendly story.
I regret having missed CODA at its release. It’s become my favorite for an Oscar Best Picture (my favorite in that I want it to win, not necessarily that I think it will) and should be enjoyed by so many more than have seen it so far.