“As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music by wanting to go to Berklee College of Music and her fear of abandoning her parents.”

Director: Sian Heder
Writers: Sian Heder, Victoria Bedos, Stanislas Carré de Malberg
Staring: Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, John Fiore
Release Date: August 13, 2021

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is a child of deaf adults (CODA) and thus has a very different high school life than most. In the morning she helps her father and brother fish before going to school. After educational hours she spends her time translating for her parents at doctors appointments and important pier meetings. Not your typical young adult life.

The one thing that Ruby loves to do is sing, and she takes the plunge into the world of choir as an elective her senior year. Ruby has no idea if she is a good singer, but confidence instilled by her teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) propels her to pursue a scholarship at Berklee College. That potential for a world outside of her current one is shadowed when the fishing business her family has relied on for three generations is being threatened. Ruby is torn between pursuing her passion and helping her family, all while attempting to be the translating mediator.

Emilia Jones is, just, how do I put it, essential. Without this performance from Jones, CODA (2021) would not work at all. Jones studied for nine months non stop on how to properly do American Sign Language and how to sing, and it paid off immensely. She is the conduit that allows others to bounce off of her and shine. The entire cast of CODA put together strong efforts, but the glue-guy for everyone to elevate is Jones.

The character of Ruby is a consummate example of someone who had to grow up too fast. Ruby starts out thinking logically about decisions, about the boat, the business and her family. When she is introduced to Mr. V, all things changed. She allows herself to dream for the first time, but she is anchored home for oh-so-many reasons. The struggle for the character of Ruby is that she can not dream without knowing the consequences; it is not ignorance is bliss. She knows all the struggles, so pretending that following your dreams with reckless abandon is not an option.

The scene in CODA that sticks to your bones comes on the back end of a pickup between Ruby and her father. It is emotional, raw and wonderfully tender. I don’t know if father-daughter relationships actually work like that in some families, but the understanding they have for one another in that moment is as comforting as a new pair of socks.

Troy Kotsur is getting a ton of praise for his portrayal as Frank Rossi, Ruby’s father. He has been at least nominated for his role in every major awards circuit of critics board. Kotsur took home the accolade for best supporting actor from BAFTA and at the Screen Actors Guild awards. It should be noted that CODA itself took home the award for best Ensemble, which is a strong indicator of success at the Academy Awards. Also, shout out to Kotsur for appearing in The Mandalorian!

While personally Kotsur is second on my personal Academy Awards ballet, It is hard to have any qualms with him if he does take home the award on March 27th. One of the best scenes with Kotsur comes when Ruby is doing her duet at the school concert. Frank is not able to hear what his daughter is singing, but he is able to see the reaction of the crowd to her performance. There are laughs, tears and endless smiles. Despite not having that sense, it is impossible not to feel the surging pride and happiness he emotes knowing that his daughter is doing something special.

And shout out to the small bit parts. Well maybe not that small. Eugenio Derbez plays Bernardo Villabolos, vocal coach at the high school and personal coach to Ruby…whenever it is that she has time. Derbez comes into the role and right from his introduction there is a crescendo of energy or charisma. Derbez beats to his own drum, but that pulse he creates energizes success and fosters confidence. Everyone deserves a coach like Mr. V. Just remember to roll you Rs.

This is where you learn that CODA is based off a french movie entitled La Famille Belier (2014), which takes place in France. This adaptation switches up the location and moves it toward the outskirts of Boston and man-oh-man it is awesome vibes. If you did a double viewing of CODA and Manchester By The Sea (2016), you won’t need to find an ocean to get water. You will find a river in your living room.

The last 20 minutes of CODA are heart-wrenching in the best way possible. It begins with Ruby’s performance at the school, then goes out to the pick-up truck with her father. After that there is the Berklee College audition sequence. When Ruby ensures that her family can understand what she is singing…the entire movie builds up to that moment and it delivers. The domino sequence falls in a perfect way so that when the last piece hits the table, your body and will to hold back your emotion gives out.

CODA is officially nominated for three Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor. It is almost a shoe-in that Troy Kotsur is going to take home the price for his role, but the other two categories are a toss up.

The Adapted Screenplay category is LOADED. Like, insanely so. CODA is undeniably beautiful. Drive My Car (2021) holds your attention for three hours non-stop. Dune (2021) is grandiose and deserves to be honored for the way it honors and conveys its source material. The Lost Daughter (2021) is a remarkably dire look at how one’s selfishness can have lasting effects, and The Power Of The Dog (2021) adapts the message and non-verbal cues of its original work most eloquently. It is an impossible task to pick.

In terms of Best Picture, CODA is easily one of the best movies of 2021. I have it in my top three of the year, joining the same tier as Dune and The Power Of The Dog. Will I be upset it CODA wins Best Picture? No, not at all. As of my typing of this review, I have seen seven of the 10 movies nominated in the category. I get all the hype around the movie and why a late push for it is warranted. It is one of, if not the best movie of 2021.

As for my own personal Oscar nominations, CODA has four for me: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Actress. HOW WAS EMILIA JONES NOT NOMINATED??

CODA is one of the most recommendable movies of 2021 and the 94th Academy Awards. Not only can you argue it as one of, if not the best movies up for recognition, CODA is able to connect to everyone in a certain way and the performances are all personable and relatable. The story of Ruby is similar to that of any high schooler looking for a sense of identity and future, but the added layers brought up with her deaf family adds an extra layer to the cake of complexity. Parents can identify with CODA because it delves into the idea of letting your kids branch out and be their own person, which has to be a terrifying relinquishing the leash.

CODA is a must-watch and has to be the most surprising smash success of 2021. It is easy to understand why this movie, while not necessarily a front runner for Best Picture, has generated the most buzz and conversation. When they say that they don’t make movies like they used too, just point to CODA and restore someone’s faith in old school movie drama.

STANKO RATING: A (4.5/5 Stars)

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