Review: ‘CODA’ reminds viewers that family is all you need to get by


Photo credit: Vendôme Pictures and Pathé Films Promotional Poster

The Rossi family; Ruby (Emilia Jones), Frank (Troy Kotsur), Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Leo (Daniel Durant) sit on the back of a truck on a sunny day, highlighting their close-knit family relationships. “CODA” is a dramatic comedy about Ruby, the only hearing member of her family, and the Rossi’s as Ruby is in her senior year of high school and contemplating her future.

By Nina Sperling, Senior Reporter

Disclaimer: Although “CODA” is a family film, it includes some explicit language and sexual content. Common Sense Media advises that it is appropriate for viewers ages 13+.

CODA” opens with the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean on a bright and sunny day. Seventeen-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her family, then begins to sing over a recording of “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” by Etta James, on a fishing boat in Massachusetts. I could tell from this captivating opening that “CODA” is something special. 

“CODA,” short for “Child of Deaf Adult,” follows Ruby as she helps her family with their fishing business and translates between them and the hearing world. At the same time, Ruby follows her own love for singing by joining her school’s choir, where she meets fellow choir member Miles (Fredia Walsh-Peelo). 

“CODA” is based on “La Famille Bélier,” a French film by Éric Lartigau. In the French film, none of the main actors were deaf in real life, so writer and director of “CODA,” Siân Heder, brought her version of the film to life by casting deaf actors as the deaf characters. When rewriting the script, Heder kept the general premise, but changed the setting, the characters’ names and the family’s business. She wanted to share a ubiquitous story and shed more light on commonalities between deaf and hearing families. “CODA” first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and then in theaters and on Apple TV+ Aug. 13, 2021. 

The cast of “CODA” includes Marlee Matlin as Ruby’s mother, who is famous for her role as Joey Lucas in “The West Wing.” Matlin paved the way for the deaf community, as she was the first deaf person to ever win an Oscar. Troy Kotsur stars as Ruby’s father, Frank, and Daniel Durant plays Ruby’s brother, Leo. To prepare for her role, Emilia Jones spent almost a year learning American Sign Language, as she did not know ASL prior to working on the film.

I especially enjoyed the upbeat songs that are dispersed throughout the film, like “It’s Your Thing” by The Isley Brothers and “Let’s Get It On” by  Marvin Gaye. Although “CODA” is a dramatic comedy, it does not take away from the excellent songs that are sure to get stuck in your head. After seeing “CODA,” I looked at the songs I know and love in a new light. I began looking at them as songs that reflect unconditional love and support in all types of close relationships. “You’re All I Need to Get By” has evolving meanings throughout the film, but also alludes to the main themes of family, love, sacrifice and acceptance.

Ruby’s parents, Jackie and Frank, have many quips and typical embarrassing parent moments that teens all know and love, including driving up to Ruby’s school playing loud rap music and looking at Leo’s Tinder profile with him at the dinner table. There is also a rather explicit and awkward, but funny, interaction in ASL between Ruby, her parents and Miles. 

Though much of the film is focused on Ruby and her family, Ruby and her duet partner Miles’ storyline is extremely heartwarming. They have a sweet and somewhat playful dynamic, but at the same time, they are able to deeply connect with one another. 

Ruby and her teacher, Mr. Bernardo Villalobos’ (Eugenio Derbez) mentor-mentee dynamic is another reason why “CODA” is unique. Villalobos adds to both the comedic and dramatic elements of the film with his humor, slight sarcasm, good taste in music and high expectations for his students, especially Ruby. He is tough towards Ruby, but it is clear that he wants to see her succeed. 

Throughout the film, there are emotional scenes with Ruby and her parents as they help her decide what to do beyond high school. The most tear-jerking moment of the whole film is when Ruby sings for Frank after her concert. This scene made me shed a tear because Ruby was finally able to share her gift of singing with her family.

In her performance, Jones beautifully encapsulates a unique and thought-provoking story of what it is like to be a bridge between two worlds. She makes Ruby’s relationship with her family clear, while also letting the audience empathize with her desire to gain independence. Since premiering, the film has received several awards, including three Academy Award nominations.

“CODA” is a heartwarming and moving story about love, sacrifice and family. The tight-knit family relationships in the film will inspire viewers to call their own family, and might even inspire you to branch out to keep pursuing your own dreams.


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  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
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  • Impact


“CODA” is a dramedy film about 17-year-old high school student, Ruby Rossi, who is the only member of her family that can hear. Through the film,  she helps her family run their fishing business, interpreting between them and the hearing world and working on their fishing boat. Ruby enjoys singing, and signs up for her schools choir, where she finds an opportunity to branch out from her family to pursue singing after high school. Eventually, Ruby has to decide whether to stay and help her family, who rely on her in their every day lives, or leave to pursue her passions independently.