This year the Oscar for best film went to the drama Coda– ‘Child of Deaf Adults’ – but the ceremony will now probably only be remembered for Wsscrfmhw (‘Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock For Mocking His Wife’). And we thought that mix-up over envelopes was exciting! But back to the film, which beat the favourite, The Power of the Dog, although Jane Campion did win best director, making her the third woman ever to do so. That’s three women in 93 years of the awards. If we carry on at that rate, by the turn of the next century it may even be five.
Coda is only viewable on Apple TV+, the first streaming service to scoop the big prize. If you wish to watch, you’ll have to subscribe or sign up for one of those seven-day free trials that you forget about and then pay monthly for the rest of your life. Or you could piggyback on a friend’s subscription and then dump them afterwards. (I did that when I wanted to watch Mare of Easttown on Sky. It worked out fine. Watch, dump, move on.) But, in this instance, is it worth a friendship dashed? Or £4.99 a month into perpetuity? That’s what we need to work out. But for those in a rush: Coda is a Mort (‘Middle Of Road Tearjerker’) and if that’s what you like, you will like this.
The main character is Ruby Rossi, played by Emilia Jones, the 20-year-old daughter of Aled Jones. (He has a 20-year-old daughter? God, we are all so old!) She is hearing but her parents, Jackie and Frank – played by Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur, who are both deaf actors – are deaf, as is her brother (Daniel Durant, also deaf). Directed by Sian Heder, who also wrote the screenplay, this is an adaption of a French film, La Famille Bélier, so no points for originality. But that version didn’t use a mostly deaf cast.
The Rossi family live in Massachusetts, where they operate a commercial fishing boat and rely on Ruby. As a Coda, she is fluent in sign language and can interpret back and forth. We are meant to see Frank and Jackie as boisterous and eccentric and sexy (they don’t know their noisy sex can be overheard) and funny. Early on they insist Ruby accompany them to the doctor so she can interpret their medical problem. ‘My nuts are on fire,’ says Frank, while Jackie, he says, is ‘like a boiled lobster claw’ down there. It’s a scene played for laughs but, while Ruby is mortified, I could only think: why don’t they write this down for the doctor? Spare their daughter? (It was ‘jock itch’, by the way.)
Ruby is exhausted. Ruby is pulled this way and that. Ruby has to be up at 3 a.m. to go out on the boat before school and at school she is being bullied. But then she joins the school choir and discovers she has a terrific voice, and the (inspirational) singing teacher thinks she can win a scholarship to a prestigious music college. But can she leave the family?
This hits all its marks. Will she triumph over her nerves on audition day? Will her family turn up to cheer her on? It is sometimes affecting – I welled up a few times, I confess; it is ruthless in that way – but never surprising. You also have to wonder: is it right that the hearing character gets to go on a journey but no one who is deaf does? It’s not an Oscar-winning film, to my mind, and while Kotsur won best supporting actor, it’s quite an obvious performance. But if you love a Mort, then there’s nothing else for it: bag a friend, then dump them.
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