To show that you love someone, you do not always have to utter the words "I love you." There is a certain type of love to be found in silence. CODA, an Oscar nominated film by Sian Hader, emphasises this point and conveys familial love through both silence and melody.
CODA, an acronym for Children of Deaf Adults, is not a phrase you hear every day. So it is only natural that very few motion pictures take on the responsibility to tell such a tale.
To this end, Sien Heder's coming-of-age dramedy 'CODA' offers an empathetic view by depicting the tale of a boisterous deaf family. While the premise is quite off-beat, even when compared to contemporary indies of 2022, it still manages to pull on familiar heartstrings, thanks to the beautifully crafted performances of the cast.
The story revolves around a 17-year-old, socially awkward high schooler in Massachusetts, Ruby (Emilia Jones) who secretly loves to sing. Her introvertish nature probably stems from the embarrassment of living in a family where everyone but her is hearing-impaired.
Being the only member of the family who can hear, she has to play the role of her family's unofficial interpreter. Thus, from handling her father's fishing business to keeping up with her studies, Ruby's bewildering life is very far flung from that of a normal teenager.
Overwhelmed with responsibilities on her young-adult shoulders, Ruby begins to lose her passion for singing. As everything begins to turn bleak for our young protagonist, her music teacher Bernando (Eugenio Derbez) enters the fray. The latter part of the story deals with how Bernardo rekindles Ruby's passion for music as she explores her abilities as a musician.
The script for CODA is based on another highly acclaimed French film 'La Famille Bélier'. In both movies, they beautifully portray working-class families living through their disabilities. But what I found interesting was, this movie oddly reflects the storyline of the 1996 Sanjay Leela Bansali film 'Khamoshi- The Musical'.
In the movie 'Khamoshi', the family's livelihood came from fishing as well, and the protagonist played by Monisha Koirala was the only non-deaf member of the family, with musical talent that none of her family could appreciate.
CODA seems to be a more sophisticated and politically correct version of 'Khamoshi'. CODA immaculately captured the weight of responsibility on Ruby, highlighting the emotional labour of being the only individual of her family who can hear. It also portrayed how people looking at her family differently affected her developmentally.
In short, CODA does not necessarily shine when it comes to presenting an exceptional plot. From the handsome boy being endearing towards the unpopular girl to the lead's sudden confidence after actualising her talent, every cliche of the generic coming-of-age tale is on display here.
Rather, what makes CODA beautiful is the execution of this typical storyline. Modern movies are replete with cliches, the ones in CODA however, feel refreshing.
Sometimes a formulaic project can exceed expectations through skilful direction and genuine acting. CODA is the epitome of this type of filming. It being set in the countryside of Massachusetts felt like a breath of fresh air as well.
The lead actress Emilia Jones singing 'Beyond the Shore' felt like a warm hug to me. The talented actress's effortless ASL (American sign language) skills will never for a moment make you think that she learned it only for this movie.
But the true gems of this movie were Ruby's father, mother and brother played by Kotsur, Matlin and Durant respectively. These actors are hearing impaired in real life as well, and their imbued performance made CODA stand out even through its flaws.
Another aspect that this film successfully highlighted was the relationship of a CODA with their parents. Kotsur's performance carried the story with sincerity and charm. The father-daughter relationship exhibited in the film hits the right notes of emotions and shows the importance of having a supportive father.
With the right balance of emotion and quirkiness, this near-perfect story might not bag the Oscar given the height of competition this year. But, it does deserve more attention as it sheds light on a less explored sect of society, namely the deaf community. It could have been better if it emphasised more on the problems, focused more on Ruby's mother's perspective and displayed the romance in a less obvious manner.
Someone once told me that CODA is a feel-bad, feel-good movie. It makes sense to me. The movie makes you feel helpless learning how people who cannot hear or talk suffer, for something they cannot control. However, the movie also uplifts you by showing a progressive scenario where people become more empathetic towards them and stop treating them differently.