CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults and the film takes us into the home or Ruby Rossi, a high school senior, whose parents and older brother are deaf. Ruby is the only hearing person in the family, which is tough. She’s been bullied at school since kindergarten because she talked funny and her family was different.
The movie begins with Ruby belting out an Eta James song on her family’s commercial fishing boat with her dad and brother. Ruby’s needed to pitch in on the boat, monitor the radio and haggle with the fish buyers. She’s integral to her family’s success. Then she races off to school where she’s mocked because she smells like fish. As a bit of a lark, against her best friend’s wishes, she signs up for the school choir, which is taught by the demanding, often perturbed, Mr. Villalobos.
As her father points out, Ruby’s always been an adult. She translates for her parents when they visit the doctor, when the fish dealers are cheating them, when the local news interviews them.
Once Mr. Villalobos sees that Ruby has talent, he taps her to do a duet with a boy she has a little crush on. He pushes her to do her best and to apply to Berklee School of Music. He offers to work with her nights and weekends. Her parents know nothing of this or of her talent. Music isn’t something they appreciate. The plot revolves around the choice of helping her family when their fishing business is threatened or pursue her dream to study music.
Ruby’s down to earth and likable as a girl who’s the third adult in the family. Her singing is beautiful.
The film suffers a bit from the usual Hollywood contrivances: the either/or choice of living your dream or living a dreary working class life, the high school stereotypes with the boring classes, mean girls pecking order and the contest (here an audition for a scholarship). Mr. Villalobos has an acerbic wit, but it’s rather sad since he’s the only one who enjoys his sarcasm. No one ever criticizes him for that. It bothered me that though he states that he is a rags to riches story, he showed little interest till the end in Ruby’s family’s real struggle and the reason they needed her more than most families need a child to help with the family business. In a non-Hollywood film, I think he’d have more dimension as would her best friend.
2020 Best Picture, CODA is definitely worth seeing. Marlee Matlin should have gotten an Oscar for her role as Ruby’s mom just as Troy Kotsur did as her father.