Opening Sundance this year was Sian Heder’s follow-up to Tallulah (2016), Coda, a re-imagining of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier. Coda, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults stars Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, the only hearing member in a family of deaf fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When Ruby discovers a love of singing her senior year of high school, it leads to the crux of the drama, since her teacher believes she has the talent to get a scholarship at Berklee. This happens just as her family decides to break out on their own and start a co-op, which Ruby is an integral part of, since she is the only one who can bridge the gap between her deaf family and the outside fishing community. Ruby is then forced to choose between her love of singing and her own dream or the love of her family and their dream.
Coda effortlessly mixes humor and heart to tell this tremendously moving story that delivers the kind feel-good prestige crowd pleaser that might have the stamina to stay the course come awards season. This is thanks not only to the authenticity Sian Heder brings to her take on the material, which takes place where she grew up in Massachusetts, but also thanks to some truly powerful performances led by Emilia Jones, who is aided by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin who plays her mother and Troy Kotsur who steals the show as the patriarch of the family. There’s an authentic chemistry on screen in the family dynamic of how Ruby and her family interacts that not only has the comic relief you’d expect, but also some genuinely heartwarming moments as well.
I absolutely adored Coda, it’s a beautifully charming piece of cinema that highlights the differences that make us all unique, even if some may see them as shortcomings. I think it’s that approach that you can tell was baked into the very fabric of the film that gives its message of empowerment and how it brings us together a much more positive take than I expected. It’s the kind of feel good outsider narrative that almost anyone can get behind, as not only Ruby is thrust into the spotlight and forced into the unknown, but her family as well when the Co-op starts to take on a life of its own in the community. Coda was simply sublime, and it was amazing way to start my first Sundance, I have a feeling this film will have an amazing life going forward.