CODA, by Cameron J. Czaja

If you have seen The Legionnaire’s end of the year video for 2021, then you already know that I favor the film CODA (2021) that I’m about to review, calling it my hidden gem of 2021. Also, in the video I stated what CODA is about and why I enjoyed it. To those who, unfortunately, didn’t get the chance to watch my ramblings, let me elaborate more about the film.

For those who are unaware, CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults, and the CODA in the film is Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones). Ruby is not only a CODA, but she is the only member in her family who can hear. Her older brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), is also deaf. Both her and Leo help their family fishing business run by her parents Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin), with Ruby planning on committing to it full time after she finishes high school. Due to her unusual life, Ruby is somewhat of an outcast at school though she does have a crush named Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). After Ruby notices Miles sign up for choir, she decides to try out as well, which is led by “Mr. V” Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez). On the first day of class Mr. V ask the students to sing the song “Happy Birthday to You” to determine their vocal parts. When Ruby is forced to sing, she panics and leaves the class though she does come back at a later time and explains to Mr. V how she used to be bullied in school for talking funny when she was younger. Mr. V informs her that his class is welcome to all types of voices, which encourages Ruby to sing. Her performance surprises both him and the other students in the class. Meanwhile, Ruby’s parents are struggling to make ends meet with the fishing business due to new fees and sanctions that they’re dealing with from the local board. One day at a board meeting, Frank announces that he’s going to start his own company to bypass certain restrictions, which inspires other fisherman join him on this venture. This creates a bit of a conflict for Ruby because she now has to balance school, choir practice, a potential scholarship at Berklee, and helping out her family’s fishing business going through a major transition.

So, after reading the brief description of CODA, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “that sounds like an interesting film, but what makes it a “hidden gem.” Good question. In retrospect, it could’ve been told in many different ways, which would’ve either fell flat or seem like an Oscar bait type of film. However, the route they took to tell this story works because it highlights many key themes that most can relate to such as family. It also includes themes of sacrifice involved and expressing our hidden talents that God has given us. 

Because this film is called CODA, and centralizes on the main character Ruby, we don’t spend the majority of the time with the deaf family as much as the protagonist. By that statement, you may think that the family in the film isn’t the focus. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. What I admired about it is that the film doesn’t feel like the struggle it could’ve been given the condition the condition of Ruby’s family. The tension here is Ruby finding the balance of trying to reach her needs as well as her family’s as they try to venture into a new career opportunity. While the deafness factor does by a key role with the conflict in the film, it doesn’t make the family seem helpless to where they can’t function in society. It establishes right off the bat that Ruby and her family can get along well, and I believe a lesser film would’ve shown you the issues that most would assume a family like that would have. In hindsight, the story could’ve been told without the deafness factor, but dealing with a number of different problems. However, I’m glad it did feature these types of characters because outside of the A Quiet Place franchise, we don’t often see deaf characters in mainstream films to this degree, at least in recent memory.

Between writing this review and going to work, I went to a Saturday evening Mass. I was tired from working all day and thinking about what else I was going to include in my review for CODA. During the homily, the priest kept bringing up about how we are given gifts from God and we need to find a way to use them. This reminded me of Ruby’s gift in the film, which was having a beautiful singing voice. She didn’t even fully embrace this gift until her choir teacher Mr. V helped bring it out of her. While we may not see the signs God gives us to show what our gifts are, people such as the priest at my parish help remind us that we need to use our gifts to glorify God. I’m thankful that I’m able to use this website to evangelize my faith via writing, and with the timing of writing this review and the homily I heard.

When you get right down to it, CODA is a film with a lot to unpack. From the family drama to starting a new path, it’s one that a lot of people can relate to even if the same struggle isn’t present in their lives. While I don’t have any deaf family members nor know anyone who is deaf, the issues that I did see were relatable, which, if there’s at least one goal a film should make, it’s to find something that relates to its audience. This film succeeded at that endeavor. Coincidentally, as of finishing this review, the film has won three Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (won by Troy Kotsur), and Best Picture. However, even if it didn’t any of those awards, I still would recommend watching this film. I don’t want to give away the ending because this isn’t the type of film, I want to spoil. At the same time, I will say that there was part in the end where I did get teary eyed but in a good way due to it being such a feel-good moment. It’s nice that a Best Picture film has a happy ending mainly because the last one to have one was Green Book back in 2018, which, granted, wasn’t that long ago, but I feel like we need more of them every year or so. Hopefully, we will in the future.         

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