When the nominations for the 94th Academy Awards® were announced last month, the only one that I wasn’t familiar with in the Best Picture category was Sian Heder’s CODA. It probably went under my radar because of its limited distribution, and/or lack of buzz in my media feeds as I was unaware that it’s been available for streaming on Apple TV+ since last August.
Like Darius Marder’s SOUND OF METAL, which was a nominee for Best Picture last year, CODA (standing for Children of Deaf Adults) deals with deaf culture, and music. But while SOUND OF METAL is a gritty depiction of a former junkie drummer’s bout of hearing loss, CODA is a gooey family melodrama that, despite some sex jokes, is more akin to an ABC Afterschool Special (dated reference lost on younger readers?).
Emilia Jones stars as Ruby, the only hearing person in her Gloucester, Massachusetts household, which is made up of her parents Frank and Jackie, portrayed by Troy Kotsur, and Marlee Matlin (the Queen of Deaf thespians -deafspians?); and her brother Leo (Daniel Durant).
Ruby is a familiar angsty teenager, captured with the right amount of awkwardness by the 19-year old Jones, whose crush on a fellow student (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) leads her to sign up for choir at her high school. There she is inspired by another familiar archetype, the acerbic, and demanding instructor played by Eugenio Derbez to find her singing voice. Actually, Jones’ Ruby seems to have already found it as her vocal performance sounds like she’s had some previous training. Her takes on Joan Baez’s “Both Sides Now,” and Ashford and Simpson’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” are pretty damn polished.
CODA, which is a remake of Éric Lartigau’s LA FAMILLE BÉLIER (2014), comes down to Ruby deciding if she wants to leave home to follow her dreams via an audition for a scholarship at Berklee School of Music, or if she should stay home, and help her family with their fishing business. This is a scenario as old as the Hollywood hills, without a surprising story-beat to be found; but it’s an earnest, well-meaning attempt at uplift aided greatly by its likable cast.
As Ruby’s father, Kotsur scored a Best Supporting Actor nom, but as appealingly authentic as he is as the grizzled, concerned character, I wouldn’t bet on him winning. Matlin, who has some sharp moments (“If I was blind, would you want to paint?” she unfairly asks Ruby), but perhaps because she won Best Actress back in 1987 for her first film, the also deaf culture-entric CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, she wasn’t nominated here. That leaves Director Heder’s Best Screenplay nom, another doubtful candidate due to the film’s fluffiness.
So, I’ll go on the record to predict no Oscar wins for the all-too cuddly CODA.