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Oscars Challenge #46: CODA (2021) Movie Review

CODA poster

As of this writing, this is the current Best Picture winner. A title held by 93 other films under it. If you are a director or film company that wants to produce a film that will compete in the grandest stage, you compare your work to others who have held the top title.

Of course, you don't want your film to be remembered as the worst or overshadowed by controversies. You want to be identified as one of the best.

CODA may have been just a typical coming-of-age drama, but it squeezes your emotional heartstrings. It captivates you with its sweet plot and amazing moral lessons. After watching this film, I feel like I appreciate music more than ever.

We follow the story of Ruby Rossi, played by the beautiful Emilia Jones, the youngest and the only hearing member of her family. Her parents, Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant), are all deaf. The family owns a fishing boat, and they rely on Ruby for most of their transactions because the people involved in the fishing business do not know how to speak or understand sign language. Her family is hoping after she graduates from high school, she will inherit their business and work full-time.

Ruby sings

One day, Ruby decides to join a choir community at her school, instructed by the tough Mr. Bernardo Villalobos (Emphasis on his last name). He encourages her to continue singing with the hopes of one day enrolling at Berklee College of Music to pursue her dreams. But a big question arises in her mind when her family responsibilities coincide with her wanting to follow her dreams. And how will her family reacts when they learn that their daughter wants to pursue her passion for music? Because to them, music is nothing more than a typical silence in their everyday lives.

CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults, which best describes the character of Ruby Rossi. Interestingly, in musical terms, a coda is a passage that brings a piece to an end, similar to the lead character breaking away from tradition and pursuing her dreams.

Ruby with her family

One of only six (so far) Best Picture winners without a Best Director nominee joining Wings (1927), Grand Hotel (1932), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Argo (2012), and Green Book (2018). There were five nominees only for Best Director while 10 in Best Picture, so maybe the director got cut off. It doesn't mean that this movie is not well-directed, but it competed against juggernauts, so I guess I should give a hat-off to the other nominees.

Aside from winning Best Picture in the Academy Awards, it also received two other awards: Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur and Best Adapted Screenplay. But the film had a lot of accolades from other film festivals.

Ruby performs

I am not deaf, and neither were my parents, so this film tells a perspective I never knew. Something like the experiences of ordinary people is also experienced by them, like making love or cracking jokes. I am glad I learned much from this movie from a viewer's perspective.

Beautiful performances from the cast members. Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Martin, Eugenio Derbez, and Daniel Durant played very well. Emilia spent nine months learning American Sign Language and took voice lessons before filming. She may not be the best singer, but her voice is well-toned for her character. Her dedication and passion transpired in her role.

Feeling Ruby's tones

My favorite scene in the film is when the family attends Ruby's recital, with 1 to 2-minute silence. Frank looks around the audience and notices them clapping and enjoying the music. The family never knew how she sang or what she sounded like when performing, but during that simple moment of silence, they finally understood it. That silent moment is needed to feel the emotion and take its time. With so much the movie has gone through up to that moment, we require a few minutes to breathe. It is somehow similar to the train sequence in Spirited Away (2001).

Choosing Joni Mitchell's classic "Both Sides Now" song as the climactic performance was an absolute blast. Despite being written and performed in the 1970s, its meaning and importance perfectly resonate with this film. It's about showing the two sides of reality, the first being an illusion perceived by our minds and the other the bitter feeling of it. The lyrics perfectly describe the whole movie. But despite that, we never really understood anything.

Audition at Berkelee

What I think is deemed inappropriate is the injection of a teenage love story between Ruby and Miles. Even if those scenes were removed, it wouldn't damage the plot so much.

I can compare CODA like Birdman (2014) in terms of the Best Picture winners. You either like the film or hate it. There's no in-between. I understand those who hate the movie because it feels more like a chick flick that will trigger your emotions, but to me, it's pretty good.

This is not for you if you are into more mature movies that discuss relevant topics or issues. However, if you are looking for a feel-good film with a happy and satisfying ending, get ready to grab your popcorn and tissues because this is one you don't want to miss.

I will give this film a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

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