CODA is not a groundbreaking film because of its story, or because of its performances. However, it is an incredible film not just because of the setting, but because of its warmth and heart. CODA stands for “Child of Deaf Adults”, and this film, currently streaming on Apple+, tells the story of Ruby Rossi, a high school student whose parents and brother are deaf. She works with them on a fishing boat, helping to translate their sign language for the hearing dock workers. Because of her unusual family, she’s laughed at by most of the other students; but she loves music and joins the school choir, where she learns that she has talent. Her music teacher offers to tutor her, and encourages her to apply to the Berklee College of Music. Her struggles to adapt and find her way form the focus of the film.
This could easily have been Lifetime Channel material, but the characterization of the non-hearing performers as real people rather than caricatures, and the use of actors who cannot hear, makes the film work. Troy Kotsur and Marlee Martin shine as Ruby’s parents, who are funny, earthy and ultimately supportive. Emilia Jones is terrific as Ruby, signing fluently although she is not hearing impaired. The rest of the cast is rock solid. It’s truly a movie which made me laugh and cry.
Although it’s not perfect, and I can’t comment on its faults in depicting deaf people since I’m not in that group, I think CODA is an important movie for people who can hear. It’s good to see deaf actors in solid, important roles, and this movie achieves its brilliance because of that casting decision. I highly recommend it.