Ruby (Emilia Jones) is a CODA—Child of Deaf Adults—and as the only one in her family who can hear, she’s essential in operating the fishing business and helping her folks navigate daily life. But when Ruby joins the high school choir on a whim and learns she’s a heck of a singer, she’s at odds with her financially struggling family as they can’t, for obvious reasons, connect with her blossoming passion for music.
CODA wobbles throughout its runtime, wavering between a deep (and far more interesting) family drama and a typical coming-of-age tale with all the corresponding young adult tropes we’ve come to expect in a story about an art kid. Even so, clichés can be tolerated. CODA’s most vulnerable moments are a knock-out, too, with roaring performances from veteran deaf actors Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin as Ruby’s parents.
Still, CODA is a bit of a conundrum and is equal parts annoying even while it does resonate. It’s never quite dull, yet it never holds much in the way of surprise. Ruby’s eccentric choir director (Eugenio Derbez) inhabits a feel akin to what might have been some 2004 film that with Hillary Duff and Chad Michael Murray—one wherein comedic elements, extreme personas and dramatic elements are far more down-to-earth, somehow.
Despite the frustrations, CODA’s screenplay’s attempts to do good or delve into an honest portrayal of the complexities of a deaf household give it cred. That is, such moments remind those of us with the privilege to hear that we all need to think against the notion that the deaf community is helpless. Oftentimes we can forgive stories when they go down well-trodden paths so long as there are newer or more enlightening truths. Once the credits roll, it’s clear CODA’s strength is in its heart rather than its tropes. What it does well, it does well, and what it does bad—well, it ain’t the worst.
+ Honest, heartfelt and never dull
- Derbez’s performance is too much
Directed by Sian Heder
With Jones, Kotsur and Matlin
Apple TV+ and Violet Crown, PG-13, 112 min