It can be difficult being caught between your dream and your family. Such is the case for Ruby (Emilia Jones), a high school student living with her family in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She lives with her family, who make their living as commercial fisherman. She rises early in the morning to work the boat before going to class, but her real passion is music.
Her family doesn’t understand that passion because they can’t. Ruby can hear, but her family can’t. Her parents Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin), along with her older brother Leo (Daniel Durant) are all deaf and have been since birth. Ruby has grown up as an outsider due to being able to hear, but also as her family’s bridge to the rest of the world. And for her, it’s exhausting.
Searching for an elective, Ruby tries out for choir, crossing paths with Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), or as his students call him Mr. V. He recognizes Ruby’s natural talent and offers train her to audition for a spot in a music college. At the same time, her family’s livelihood is threatened, and Ruby is needed to be their bridge to the hearing world. Suddenly she’s caught between the pursuit of a dream and saving her family.
This film, from writer/director Sian Heder, is a beautiful, moving and emotional journey. It has rich themes, capturing a slice of life and a group of people we don’t often get to see. But the overall journey feels universal, something we can all grasp and connect with as we watch it play out.
There are moments of wonder in Ruby’s journey. You feel the power of the moment as she fully realizes her talent and passion as a singer, finding what moves her most in life. There are also beautiful and emotionally resonant moments when she’s trying to share this with parents who, unable to hear anything, don’t understand their daughter’s passion and drive.
The performances here are strong and moving, creating a rich world of lived-in characters. Kotsur and Matlin are wonderful as Ruby’s parents. Their relationship and the way they care for each other and their daughter is inspiring. Kotsur, in particular, has one of the films most moving moments as Frank connects with Ruby and her passion for music. Durant is strong as well, showing the depth and struggle of Leo who wants to do more and feels like a second option because of Ruby’s ability to hear.
One of the most delightful additions to the cast is Derbez. We’ve all had those teachers who were great at their craft, with an ability to inspire and draw the best out of their students. Mr. V is such a teacher, as Derbez infuses him with passion and compassion, also adding a wonderful touch of humor to the overall story.
But this film really hums thanks to Jones, who is the heart and soul of the story as Ruby. Her beautiful voice is matched by a beautiful and emotionally rich performance. You feel Ruby’s joy and her struggle thanks to the rich work of Jones, who delivers one of my favorite performances of the year so far.
Since CODA debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January it’s been buzzed about. It was acquired by Apple TV+, which will release it on Friday, August 13. No doubt it’s a huge acquisition for the streaming service, which has already produced the best lineup of original series in 2021.
The music and performances here are great, the look of the film is beautifully intimate, drawing you into the story and world. But it’s the story that will have you inspired and enraptured. CODA is the best film I’ve seen so far in 2021. It’s a must-see experience and one that I hope to see competing for the year’s highest honors during awards season.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.