Seventeen year old Ruby (Emilia Jones) is a CODA, a child of deaf adults. As the only hearing person in her family, Ruby acts as an interpreter for her parents and older brother as they struggle to keep the family fishing business afloat. After joining her school’s choir, she finds herself torn between family responsibility and pursuing her passion for singing.
While she loves to sing, she’s really not sure if she’s any good. After all, she has only sung in front of her family. It isn’t until she is given encouragement by her choir director (Eugenio Derbez) who “hears something in her,” that her self-doubt begins to fall away.
Like most movies about teenagers, we get a healthy dose of “parents just don’t understand.” And let’s not forget Miles – the formulaic high school crush played by Ferdia Walsh Peelo. He’s also in the choir, and the director pairs the two to rehearse for an upcoming duet performance.
There are a couple of thematic touchstones beyond the relatable (and hilarious) parenting moments. Early on, we see Miles wearing a King Crimson t-shirt (albeit stiff and hot off the press). Ruby’s room has progressive rock posters and albums she plays for her friends. The teenage-rebel symbolism spills over into the family business as they attempt to take on the established fish marketplace.
One of the best scenes is the on stage performance with Miles. But it’s not the couples’ singing (or lack of chemistry) that stands out. It’s the first time we experience the perspective from Ruby’s deaf family. Silence falls over the auditorium. We watch over their shoulders as they look around the room to interpret how to feel. The trust they place in others’ physical response is touching. They are truly reading the room.
The characters are authentic and emotionally compelling, especially in the carefully directed one-on-one scenes. Their deafness doesn’t take over the story, it’s just a part of their lives. I was beautifully wrecked by the final audition scene. And then, a friend shared with me that a coda is also “the concluding passage of a dance or musical piece.” 🙂
CODA releases on Friday, August 13th in theaters (*the first feature film to have open captions in theaters*) and on Apple TV+.