CODA movie review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, September 23rd, 2023  


Studio: Apple
Dir: Sian Heder

Aug 10, 2021 Web Exclusive
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The winner of four awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, including the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for a U.S. Narrative Film, CODA is an uncomplicated and heartwarming look at family, sacrifice, and following your dreams.

The film centers around Ruby (Emilia Jones), a child of deaf adults (CODA). The only hearing member in her four-person family, Ruby stays mainly friendless in the shadows of her high school, and instead spends most of her free time helping her father (Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) on their struggling fishing boat. She communicates with the Coast Guard, listens for other boats, and negotiates a good price for their daily catch.

Sadly for her family who can’t hear her, Ruby has a natural gift for singing. Her shyness, however, doesn’t allow many other people to hear her voice. Things quickly change when, on a whim, Ruby signs up for choir to be near Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Pinto), a boy she likes. With the help of the school’s charismatic choir and music teacher (Eugenio Derbez), Ruby begins to break out of her shell.

From here, the film splits into several interlaced plot lines: Ruby trying to follow her dreams and make it to music school, Ruby trying to balance her passion with assisting her family, and Ruby and Miles getting closer to each other as they are assigned to perform a duet together.

On its surface, CODA seems like a typical, overly saccharine high-school “follow your dreams” drama. It is that, in a sense, with story beats that feel familiar and recycled, and redundant and overutilized conflict resolutions. Still, CODA manages to do a great job. Writer/director Siân Heder’s thought-provoking script takes the film’s cheesy moments and makes them genuinely affecting. The could-be corny scenarios provide a strong connection between the viewer and the characters. Even before the film’s main three plot lines begin, there is so much heart and authenticity laced in every conversation Ruby’s family has.

While CODA’s successes owe a great deal to Heder’s script and direction, the film’s performances are what truly sell everything happening on-screen. Jones, in one of her first leading roles, shines as Ruby. She captures the fine line between her character’s teenage angst and her love and support for her family. While the film balances on her shoulders, the other actors also do a fantastic job; each one brings a different essence with their character. Examples of this are Derbez’s chaotic yet loving energy as Ruby’s teacher or Durant’s constant struggle to be the older brother who can’t fully support his family. The characters and the actors portraying them have a harmony and rhythm that carries the film.

While it is difficult to watch certain emotion-filled scenes in CODA, more often than not, it’s impossible not to have a smile on your face. Heder has created a feel-good film that sways viewer perceptions between happy and sad moments in a way that doesn’t make the film feel inconsistent. Rather, it feels natural in its slice-0f-life approach that doesn’t exploit its characters to manufacture tension. Instead, it understands them and voices their frustrations and concerns in a thoughtful way. (

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 3/10


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