CODA: A tender portrait of love, music, and fishing
CODA – standing for ‘child of deaf adults’ – is in many ways a typical coming-of-age story. It centres a high-school student facing decisions about their future, discovering their own interests and finding their first love. Yet, as the only hearing person in her family of four, Ruby (Emilia Jones) has to contend with all this whilst also considering that following her dreams may not only jeopardise the family fishing business but also disrupt the unit as a whole. It is a thoughtful yet warm portrait of a family at a crossroads and a young woman joyously exploring her newfound love for music and singing, whilst also managing to be a potent exploration of class despite its somewhat unimaginative cinematography.
The class in question is first and foremost a financial one. Heart-wrenching depictions of a family constantly at financial risk as the fishing industry becomes more and more hostile and corrupt provide a backdrop to this drama. Yet, it is also clearly preoccupied with a social exclusion as well, initially depicted on the outskirts of the community as a result of their deafness or rather due to hearing people’s unwillingness to communicate with them. The older brother Leo, who mans the boat alongside Ruby and their father, struggles with this notion in particular as he strives for more independence and responsibility. For example, he is visibly frustrated when Ruby takes over price negotiations for their fish, despite the fact she secured a better price, he is denied a space to figure things out by himself.
This tension between individuality and cooperation is at the heart of this story, not only in the arc of Leo but also in Ruby’s choices for the future and the evolution of the larger fishing community as a whole. Ultimately, this is a tension that the film equally embraces and questions, yet always in a manner that feels thoughtful and humanistic. This is most potent in a later scene where Ruby fuses the seemingly polar opposite worlds of her music and her deaf family by simultaneously signing and singing. The result is a deeply emotionally affecting scene that illustrates that moving away does not necessarily mean leaving behind.
However, the expressive and uniquely individual signing is not reflected in the film’s rather unambitious visual aesthetic that mainly consists of sets that would not look out of place in most streaming shows. In addition, the story’s scope can sometimes get in the way of Ruby’s self-exploration, as a romantic subplot with a fellow choir singer feels underdeveloped. It is not that their connection is not believable but rather amongst the other nuanced characters, the love interest of Miles appears to fit a bit too neatly into a cliché boyfriend role.
Nevertheless, the film ultimately shines through its relatively minor shortcomings and cleverly reshapes the coming-of-age mould for the specific experience of Ruby as a CODA – ultimately resulting in an affecting picture that generally chooses genuine emotion over movie cliché and community over individualism.
CODA is available now on Apple Tv+.