How much would you sacrifice for your family? In CODA, Ruby is torn between her responsibilities and her dreams.
‘CODA‘ is a lovely Apple plus original film from Director Siân Heder and tells the story of 16yr old Ruby Rossi, a young girl who loves to sing but carries a lot more responsibility on her shoulders than many of her peers. The part of Ruby is played wonderfully by 19yr old British actress Emilia Jones.
Ruby is part of a community of children known as ‘CODA‘, which stands for Children of Deaf Adults. Her older brother is also deaf, so she is the only hearing person in her household. On the surface, she may appear to be ‘the lucky one’ but the true weight of responsibility she carries very quickly reveals itself
Being CODA means Ruby serves as a liaison between the hearing world and her family. She has served as an interpreter of sorts for most of her life and is in many ways is a lifeline for her family.
Family is a central theme in this film, and it does a wonderful job of portraying deaf people as more than their disability. On the one hand, they are a hardworking and proud fishing family. On the other hand, Ruby’s dad also happens to be a weed smoking hippy who takes every opportunity to ‘physically romance’ his wife. Ruby’s mum is an ex-model, slightly resentful of her treatment by the rest if the world, especially those ‘hearing b*tches’.
Rubys good-looking older brother is frustrated but determined to be the one to look after his family without having the advantage of being able to hear, like his sister. And Rubys best friend has also decided to set her sights on getting involved with her brother.
There is a lot going on in her life and Ruby does her best to navigate both worlds. It quickly becomes apparent she is an outsider. In her own home, being the only one that can hear means she does end up feeling different and left out. And at school, being the kid of ‘the deaf family’ also sees her isolated and mocked by her cruel peers, but for quite different reasons. She faces the prejudice, ridicule and abuse deaf people deal with, but the difference is she can actually hear it, which makes her experiences even harder.
The only thing that Ruby really has to herself is her voice and her love of singing. The cruel irony of being deaf and having a child that can sing beautifully is never shied away from in the film. Once Ruby joins the school choir and her music teacher recognises her talent, it becomes a heartbreaking internal battle for Ruby. Should she continue to be there as she has always been for her family or focus on herself and pursue her dream of attending the prestigious Berkley music school?
Despite dealing with many difficult issues, the film manages to maintain quite a light and playful tone. Her mum and dad are the epitome of embarrassing and inappropriate parents, from their daytime sex romps to their visits to the doctors where Ruby must interpret adult sexual health information for them. There are many sweet moments and a few funny ones which stopped this film from feeling depressing and gave it more of an optimistic uplifting feel.
This film finds the family at a crossroads over what how tight to hold on to their daughter Ruby who has become their primary means of communication with the rest of the world. While it’s shot beautifully, the use of sound isn’t as dynamic or creative as in films like ‘ Sound of Metal’, but this is altogether a more relatable story about an outsider finding her place in the world. It’s not soppy but you may find one or two scenes tug on your heart strings just a bit.
CODA is a lovely story of discovery and self-belief. It gives am amazing insight into a world many otherwise would have little idea about and does it, I believe without being patronising or condensing towards the deaf community. The other three co-stars are actually deaf, making this an authentic experience and great representation without pandering to diversity quotas.
Movies and TV shows are still a ‘side hustle’ for Apple. Unlike Netflix, the survival of their business doesn’t rest on films like this being huge financial successes. This does mean however they are able to focus more on quality over quantity when it comes to their choice of stories. Which is why most of their productions end up being nominated for awards, CODA being no different. Hopefully with CODA being nominated for best picture at the 94th Academy Awards, the film will gain more well-deserved press and a much wider audience.