Funny, sweet and moving, ‘CODA’ will absolutely crush you

One of the year’s best is streaming now on Apple TV+ and opens at the Gateway Film Center on Aug. 19

Brad Keefe

I’ve been waiting to tell people this since January’s Sundance Film Festival, and finally I can say it. Watch “CODA” as soon as possible.

This simple little dramedy took Sundance by (virtual) storm, winning the Grand Jury and Audience awards. It’s such a warm and unabashed crowd-pleaser that it seems the most common complaint among critics is that it’s too crowd-pleasing. It’s a fairly conventional puller of heartstrings.

But does it work? Well, my second viewing was pretty much just like the first, leaving me in a puddle of tears on the floor.

The title is an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adults,” in this case Ruby (Emilia Jones). She’s a 17-year-old and the only hearing member of her family of four. On mornings before attending high school, she works on the family fishing boat with her father (Troy Kotsur) and older brother (Daniel Durant). Her mother (Marlee Matlin) rounds out her very tight-knit family.

Ruby is also blessed with a beautiful singing voice that no one in her family can hear. On a whim, sparked by her high-school crush, she decides to sign up for choir class. The class is led by a colorful instructor named Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), a demanding instructor who sees the talent in Ruby.

As Bernardo is encouraging her to explore her talents, the family fishing business is struggling. Ruby’s function as family translator conflicts with her dream of pursuing music school.

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Writer/director Sian Heder elevates storytelling that would feel at home in a Hallmark Movie of the Week into what is easily the most joyous movie experience of the year. That “CODA” is so small in both budget and flash makes it all the more endearing. This is a movie that’s nearly impossible to root against.

Jones is just brilliant in the lead role, imbuing both a sweetness and teenage restlessness. She sees a life outside of her sleepy New England fishing village while also being torn by her role in the family. Heder also cast deaf actors in the lead roles, a decision that comes through in the representation of deaf life that’s honest and never pitiable.

So you have aspects of a small town coming-of-age story, a hardworking family struggling to save a small business, and a student-mentor relationship. Oh, and young romance. And somehow it all comes together in a warm and welcoming package that brings tears of joy.

No, seriously. I’m going to warn you. This movie will absolutely wreck you in all the best ways. Never has “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” rung so true.

“CODA” was scheduled to open in Columbus theaters this weekend, but that’s been pushed back to Aug. 19 at the Gateway Film Center. It did drop on Apple TV+ (which snagged “CODA” following a post-Sundance bidding war), so if “Ted Lasso” hasn’t yet tempted you to give that streaming service a trial, now is the time.

As a crowd-pleaser, it feels right to see it with an audience. But there is one benefit to at-home viewing: No one could hear me sobbing and blubbering by the end of the movie.

At home, at the theater, it doesn’t matter. Just see “CODA.” We need so many more movies like it.


Streaming on Apple TV+, opens Aug. 19 at the Gateway Film Center

5 stars out of 5