Film Review: “CODA” Strikes a Beautiful Chord as One of the Best Films From Sundance 2021

The film at Sundance Film Festival with the most buzz so far has been CODA directed by Siân Heder, who’s debut film Tallulah was picked up by Netflix in 2016. A bidding war quickly surrounded the project with Apple TV winning distribution for an unprecedented $25 million. Potentially a Best Picture candidate, it quickly rose to the top of my must-see list and it did not disappoint.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby (Emilia Jones) is a key part of their floundering fishing business, being her father and brother’s ears on the sea and handling negotiations when selling their catch of the day. With nobody around to hear her, she sings loudly to her favorite songs to pass the time. But when a forced elective in school puts her in choir, her teacher (Eugenio Derbez) notices her special gift and tries to steer her into a musical future.

Full of incredible performances, three of the leads are hearing impaired themselves and deliver some of the most memorable scenes. Marlee Matlin portrays a touching mother/daughter relationship with Emilia Jones that is deeply moving. Shockingly funny, Troy Kotsur also creates one of the biggest cries in the film as Ruby’s father. And another powerful scene comes from a fight between Ruby and her brother, played by Daniel Durant.

Emilia Jones holds the film together incredibly well, delivering a strong adolescent performance that’s reminiscent of actresses like Emma Stone and Elliot Page at her age. Her vocal tones also give goosebumps and she makes it all seem so effortless in every scene. Eugenio Derbez chews up every moment of screen time he gets as an incredibly tough teacher who’s as hard on his students as he is on himself.

A coda is a musical term, but the film’s title is actually an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adults.” It’s such a poignant expression and the film’s main theme deals with a young adult forced to choose between pursuing her passion or doing what’s right for her family. Primarily dealing with a unique family dynamic, CODA is also very much a coming-of-age story for the character of Ruby. The film speaks to a wide ranging audience.

Set in and filmed around Gloucester, Massachusetts, the film takes advantage of beautiful real-world location shooting. Some of the cinematography on the water is breathtaking and even scenes of Ruby surrounded by dead fish on the sea are somehow beautifully composed. You fall in love with every bit of it and I imagine fans will soon be visiting to see these locations with their own eyes.

CODA is a special film and you realize it very quickly after it starts. It’s the kind of picture that makes household names out of its stars and director, opening up new doors for each. I am greatly looking forward to all of their next moves.

I give CODA 5 out of 5 stars.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).