Apple TV+ is (not so) quietly putting out great TV shows and movies these days. Wolfwalkers was deservedly nominated for Best Animated Feature at last year’s Oscars, Boys State, the documentary produced by both Apple and A24, should have been nominated for Best Documentary, and Ted Lasso is arguably the best show on TV right now. Now, while I don’t think CODA is quite as good as those, it’s still an example of how great and consistent Apple has been with their output.
CODA tells the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), a high school senior who is the child of deaf adults (CODA). She works every day on a boat with her dad and brother, fishing. It’s the family business and how they generate all of their income. But of course, since her parents and brother are deaf, everything is that much more difficult for them in a world that does nothing to accommodate them. And ironically, Ruby’s passion is singing.
This movie does a good job of setting up its central conflict — Ruby wants to go to college for music, but her family, who are unable to hear her true talent, don’t understand her desire and want her to continue helping the family business as their translator. The film takes the tried-and-true coming-of-age family drama format, uses its tropes, and still is able to make something good and unique. Of course, the singularity comes from the aspect of deafness in the family, and it’s all played quite well throughout the film.
CODA is sappy and cheesy, and is often predictable, but it gets by thanks to its sincerity and the strength of its lead performances. Jones plays her struggle between pursuing her dreams and being there for her family really well. The investment in this emotional aspect is important, or else none of the themes would land. Ruby’s father and brother (Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant) each get their moments to shine as well, along with Ruby’s mother (Marlee Matlin), who has the typical sit-on-the bed heart-to-heart with her daughter, but this time in Sign Language. There are a couple of really great emotional beats in this movie that worm their way into your heart, and most of them include Ruby’s music teacher Mr. V. (Eugenio Derbez). Out of all of the great supporting performances in the film, his is the one that had me most impressed and moved.
A lot of times with a movie like this, it can be hard for me to connect to the story. I’ve never had to experience what either Ruby or her family go through, so on the surface, there’s nothing for me to latch onto. But at its core, CODA is a human story. It’s about sibling-parent relationships, sibling relationships, and even teacher-student relationships. If you’re able to connect to the truth of the film in its simplest form, there’s a lot there to glean.