‘CODA’ Review: A Voice of Her Own

The template of “CODA” — the title is also a term used to describe the hearing children of deaf adults — might be wearyingly familiar, but this warmhearted drama from Sian Heder opens up space for concerns that feel fresh.

Ruby (Emilia Jones, delightful), a shy 17-year-old in Gloucester, Mass., is the lone hearing member of her rambunctious family. Between interpreting for her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur), and helping run the family’s fishing boat with her father and older brother (Daniel Durant) each morning before school, Ruby is exhausted. Since childhood, she has been her family’s bridge to the hearing world; now, her newly awakened desire to sing is perhaps the one thing they will struggle most to understand.

Weighed down by a groaningly predictable plot — which includes a cute-boy crush, a colorful music teacher (Eugenio Derbez) and a climactic singing audition — “CODA” relishes the opportunity to showcase the expressiveness of sign language. (The film is extensively subtitled.) The actors work together seamlessly, the blue-collar coastal setting is richly realized and the family’s cohesiveness solidly established. And if some interactions move to the clichéd beats of a sitcom, Ruby’s efforts to share her musical talent (notably in one lovely scene with her father) are remarkably affecting.

More than once, Heder effectively flips the film’s viewpoint to that of her deaf characters (who are all played by deaf actors). At a school concert, the camera watches Ruby’s family in the audience as the soundtrack abruptly cuts out, allowing us to glimpse the sometimes blanketing isolation of a silent world. In moments like this, when the quippy dialogue subsides and the story relaxes, we see the ghost of a more fruitful movie, one that would rather surprise its viewers than feed them a formula they have come to expect.

CODA
Rated PG-13 for unrestrained flatulence and a bawdy mime. In English and American Sign Language with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. Watch on Apple +.

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