A remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Belier, Sian Heder’s CODA finds its emotional pitches and frequently hits them out of the park. This is an uncomplicated and charming story with a central character in a complicated position. Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) fits the description of the title as she’s a child of deaf adults. She’s the only hearing person in her family of four – parents Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Frank (Troy Kotsur) and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant).
Ruby spends her early mornings in the water as part of the family’s struggling New England fishing business. As she arrives at school during her senior year, she finally decides to take up choir. Her little secret is she loves to sing. It doesn’t hurt that her crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is also enlisted. The teacher Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez) soon recognizes her potential. Family obligations make her ability to practice a challenge. Ruby is the clan’s full-time interpreter and has never really considered leaving the nest until the opportunity to attend the Berklee College of Music becomes achievable.
CODA is a romance between Ruby and Miles with the teacher/pupil dynamic involving the caring and tough Mr. V in there too. Neither of those subplots makes a huge impression (though Derbez gives a fine performance). The Rossi family dynamic is where its heart lies. And it’s also where we find some truly superb acting.
Jones’s Ruby is a believable teen torn between her outsized obligations and her dream. This may be a typical coming-of-age tale in many respects but we see it through a unique lens of an atypical cinematic household. Kudos go to Matlin as the mom who just assumes her daughter will always be there and Durant as the brother who supports Ruby’s need to spread her wings and vocal cords. The biggest tearjerking moments come courtesy of her relationship with her father and Kotsur’s work leaves an impression equal to that of Jones. He’s also responsible for some genuinely funny moments.
With a minimum of melodrama, the teary joy you may experience at key moments feels earned. This is a love letter to family and the idea that we need them to get by and sometimes that involves getting out of the way.
***1/2 (out of four)