“You’ll laugh, all right. You’ll cry. You’ll do both at the same time. CODA is just that kind of movie. And thank goodness for it”—Ann Hornaday, Washington Post. CODA won four of the top prizes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it’s no wonder. This truly heartfelt, music-laced story about a teenager who is the only hearing member of her family may cause even the fiercest skeptics of sentimentality to shed a tear. Gifted with a voice her parents can’t hear, 17-year-old Ruby (the wonderful Emilia Jones) is a C.O.D.A., a Child of Deaf Adults, who works on her family’s fishing boat every morning to help keep their struggling business from going under. From early on, it’s clear that she endeavors to make the people around her happy. She goes to school smelling like the morning catch to the detriment of her popularity, and she’s often asked to be the sign language interpreter for her family at the expense of her own interests outside of school. Ruby’s dilemma is that she loves to sing–a passion that’s mostly inaccessible to her parents, Jackie and Frank (Marlee Matlin—Oscar Best Actress for CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD—and Troy Kotsur). But when she decides to take a leap and join her school’s choir club, she finds a new friend in a duet partner, Miles, and is encouraged by her enthusiastic, tough-love choirmaster. Yet as she continues, she becomes torn between her obligations to her family and the pursuit of her singing. Sweet and thoughtful, CODA is unusual in its extensive use of sign language, as well as in its casting of deaf actors. Presenting the Rossis with all of their flaws and strengths, as vibrant characters who happen to not be able to hear, it’s a refreshing departure from the classic “they’re real people too” narratives in which people with disabilities are so frequently mired. In the same way CODA’s characters are not boxed in, neither is its story. The film comes to life around the family dinner table and on the boat in the morning. Rather than being structured around overdramatic conflicts or exaggerated plot twists, its key emotional moments are rooted in the Rossi family’s love for each other, even while Ruby’s parents and brother struggle to understand her.
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