CODA (PG-13, 91 mins), now streaming on Apple+
Directed by Sian Heder
Outsider stories are everywhere.
Outsiders are bullied in the playground, ostracised, laughed at. Then somebody in the wider community comes to their senses, particularly after the outsider in question shows some particular talent, at which point that somebody becomes accepting and inclusive, and others follow suit.
CODA is an outsider story, based on La Famille Belier (Éric Lartigau, 2014), a drama about a deaf family, but CODA is a cut above most movies, outsider movies included, and a much improved take on the original.
In the hands of writer/director Sian Heder and the signing hands of scruffy, often crude but always appealing fisherman Frank Rossi (Troy Kotsur), CODA doesn't thrust any message at viewers. Instead, it makes itself into a half-open door that gently invites viewers to come on in and see for themselves. You'll laugh lots and well up a few times too.
It's easy to see why CODA won the Academy Awards for best picture and best adapted screenplay, along with 14 other awards in 2022.
Like Kotsur, two of the other actors in CODA, Daniel Durant and Marlee Matlin (Best Actress, 1987 for Children of a Lesser God), have been deaf since birth.
In claiming his Academy Award for best supporting actor, Troy Kotsur signed: "This is for the deaf community, the CODA community and the disabled community. This is our moment."
What an achievement.
Frank Rossi is a husband and father of two. One of his children, Leo (Durant) was born deaf like Frank and his wife Jackie (Matlin). The other child is Ruby (Emilia Jones), their hearing child, a Child Of Deaf Adults. They're a close family, struggling socially and financially.
In an uncharacteristically self-interested move, Ruby joins the school choir and chums up, sort of, with another student, Miles (Ferdia Walsh Peelo). Under the inspirational teaching of Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), who believes in Ruby as a talented singer and a person in her own right, Ruby shines, but she's torn between having her own life and her responsibilities to her family.
Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell and All I Need To Get By by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell take on another layer of meaning in the context of the wonderful CODA. Ruby and Miles take those songs and lift them up, in a quiet and subtle way that doesn't flinch from making an impact.
Kotsur is outstanding as the randy husband, the fisherman poorly equipped to handle the requirements of the auditors, the father who needs his hearing daughter to translate for him, yet sees her need to fly away from the family nest. His remarkably expressive signing hands flutter like small birds.
CODA is beautiful in every way. And it will change your understanding of what makes our world the way it is. Ideal viewing during NZ Sign Language Week, May 9-15. Must see
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