CODA (2021 film)
|Directed by||Sian Heder|
|Screenplay by||Sian Heder|
|Based on||La Famille Bélier|
by Victoria Bedos
Stanislas Carré de Malberg
|Edited by||Geraud Brisson|
|Music by||Marius de Vries|
|Distributed by||Apple TV+|
CODA is a 2021 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film that follows a hearing teenage girl who is a child of deaf adults (CODA for short). Written and directed by Sian Heder, the film stars Emilia Jones as the hearing girl, with Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as her culturally deaf parents and Daniel Durant as her deaf brother. Eugenio Derbez and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo also star in the film.
CODA had its world premiere on January 28, 2021 at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Apple acquired distribution rights to CODA for a festival-record $25 million. The film was released in theaters and through the Apple TV+ streaming service on August 13, 2021.
In Gloucester, Massachusetts, Ruby Rossi is the only hearing member of her family: her parents Frank and Jackie and older brother Leo are all culturally deaf. She assists with the family fishing business and plans to join it full-time after finishing high school. Ruby auditions for the school choir, run by Bernardo Villalobos (or Mr. V), but when she is called upon to sing, she panics and runs away. She later returns to Mr. V and explains that she was bullied for talking funny as a child. Mr. V accepts Ruby into the choir after hearing her beautiful voice and encourages her to be more confident.
Mr. V pairs Ruby with Miles, a fellow student, for a duet at the upcoming choir recital. Their first performance goes poorly as they each prepare separately; Mr. V insists that they get together on their own to practice. Ruby invites Miles to her house to practice, but they are interrupted by Frank and Jackie loudly having sex in the next room over. Ruby later hears classmates in the cafeteria mocking the incident behind her back; Miles apologizes for spreading the story, but she wants nothing to do with him. She eventually forgives him and they resume their practice while kindling a relationship.
Meanwhile, Frank and Leo struggle to make ends meet with the fishing business as new fees and sanctions are imposed by the local board. At a board meeting, Frank stands and announces that he is starting his own company to get around the new restrictions and sell his fish on his own, inviting other local fishermen to join in. The family struggles to get the company off the ground, relying on Ruby to talk to people and spread the word.
Mr. V encourages Ruby to audition for Berklee College of Music and offers her private lessons to prepare. Ruby joins him for the lessons, but becomes increasingly busy helping her family with the business. Mr. V grows irritated with her constantly being late and making excuses, canceling their lessons. He chastises her for wasting his time and accuses her of not caring enough about music.
While fishing one day, Frank and Leo are intercepted by the Coast Guard after failing to respond to ship horns and radio calls. They are fined and have their fishing licenses revoked for their negligence; they appeal and manage to get their license back on the condition that they have a hearing person on board with them at all times. Ruby announces to the family that she is foregoing college and will join the business full-time. Her parents are supportive, but Leo reacts angrily, insisting that they can manage their own problems without Ruby's help.
Ruby's family attends her choir recital, and while they cannot hear her sing, they notice the positive reception from the audience around them. That night, Frank asks Ruby to sing a song for him while he feels her vocal cords, growing emotional. The entire family then drives to Boston with Ruby for her Berklee audition; they are not supposed to enter the audition hall, but they sneak up to the balcony to watch anyway. Ruby is nervous at first but gains confidence when she sees her family; she signs along with the song so they can understand what she is saying.
Some time later, Ruby is accepted to Berklee; she shares the news with her family and Mr. V, who are all excited for her, before asking Miles to visit her in Boston sometime. Meanwhile, the hearing workers in the family's fishing business have been learning sign language, allowing them to communicate with and interpret for the family. Ruby's friend Gertie drives her to Boston for college as her family sees them off; Ruby signs "I love you" to them as they drive away.
- Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi
- Eugenio Derbez as Bernardo Villalobos / Mr. V
- Troy Kotsur as Frank Rossi
- Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Miles
- Daniel Durant as Leo Rossi
- Marlee Matlin as Jackie Rossi
- Amy Forsyth as Gertie
- Kevin Chapman as Brady
Development and writing
CODA, written and directed by Sian Heder, is an English-language remake of the French-language film La Famille Bélier, which was released in 2014 and was successful at the French box office. Philippe Rousselet was one of the original film's producers, and he had the rights to do a remake. He and producer Patrick Wachsberger approached Heder to direct a remake for a United States audience. Heder said, "They were interested in adapting the film, but they wanted someone to make it unique and take the premise from the original and, also, reinvent it." By May 2019, the companies Pathé Films and Vendôme Group had formed a film production partnership to develop and produce English-language films, with the first being CODA.
CODA is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts. While its predecessor La Famille Bélier was set on a rural dairy farm in France, Heder chose to set CODA in Gloucester, being familiar with the city from visiting the North Shore in the summer when growing up. Heder explained, "For me it has the combination of being very picturesque and quintessentially New England but also with a working-class grit to it." Heder learned American Sign Language in the process of writing the script, with 40% of it ultimately being in ASL. The director was helped by two deaf collaborators who she called "ASL masters", Alexandria Wailes and Anne Tomasetti.
To prepare for the film, Heder observed a fish processing plant and consulted the local harbormaster about how authorities would raid a boat. She received feedback from director Kenneth Lonergan—who directed the 2016 film Manchester by the Sea, which was set in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts,—and members of the fishing-industry nonprofit Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association. Several consultants and a fisherman educated Heder in local fishing practices.
Heder first cast Marlee Matlin in CODA. During the development process, the film's financiers resisted casting deaf actors for the remaining deaf characters. Matlin threatened to drop out unless deaf actors were cast, and the financiers ultimately relented.
Heder described the casting as an opportunity for Matlin to play against type, her previous roles having been "'put-together' and classy characters". Heder said, "Marlee, in real life, is much more funny, and she has a dirty sense of humor. This (role) was a working-class fisherman's wife, and she has a lot of elements of her personality that were very right for this character." Matlin used her connections with Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles, California to help Heder find additional deaf actors. Heder saw Troy Kotsur in a Deaf West production and cast him as the fisherman and father. She cast Daniel Durant after finding him through auditions. Matlin, Kotsur, and Durant were already familiar with each other through their collaboration on the Deaf West production of the musical Spring Awakening.
Matlin described her interest in getting CODA made, "I felt that audiences would really see deaf people in a film... There are so many levels for people to identify with and, for people with no connection, who have never met a deaf person, to see sign language, to see deaf people in normal, day-to-day settings... People think that deaf people are monolithic in terms of how they approach life. And this film bursts that myth... But to burst that myth, it had to be told as authentically as possible. And it’s strange because studios clearly have the ability to greenlight a film and cast whomever they want, and there continues to be a lack of awareness that you can tell universal stories with deaf characters." Kotsur said, "You have to think a little bit outside the box and present more opportunities, instead of just having two options... You know, you write this script because somebody's deaf, or I'm writing it because it's a character that happens to be deaf. There's a distinction there.”
For the deaf actors, Heder hired a rotating group of ASL interpreters that facilitated communication with signing and speaking among the cast and crew. She connected with the deaf community in nearby Boston to secure the interpreters for on-set communication. Matlin said, "[Heder] really immersed herself into our culture and made every attempt to learn and to work with us and having two directors of sign language on the set, plus interpreters, plus the crew who learned our language, everyone working together, it was working like on any other set, but the sign language aspect made it extra special."
The director also auditioned hundreds of teenage girls before casting Emilia Jones as the hearing member of the deaf family. Jones took voice lessons and learned ASL for nine months before filming started. Heder also chose to cast Eugenio Derbez as the girl's choirmaster, seeing him as a fit for her "amalgamation of Heder's college rhythm teacher and her high school drama and English teachers".
The film was shot on location in Gloucester, Massachusetts in the middle of 2019.
In the film, the family lives in what WBUR's The ARTery described as a "creaky clapboard cottage [with] a yard jammed with boats, traps and nets". During location scouting, Heder came across what she found to be the ideal house for the family home and received permission from its residents to use it as a filming location. The choirmaster's home was a Victorian-style house on the sea, where Heder had visited family friends multiple times in her childhood, and they allowed her to film there.
A fisherman who educated Heder in local fishing practices allowed his fishing trawler to be used as a film set. Scenes set in a flooded quarry were filmed at the Steel Derrick quarry in Rockport, Massachusetts.
CODA had its world premiere on January 28, 2021 at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival as one of the opening-day films. It screened as part of the festival's US Dramatic Competition. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States at the time, CODA was screened virtually.
The film received "immediate rave reviews", according to Agence France Presse, which highlighted the positive comments from Variety and Deadline Hollywood. IndieWire wrote, "[Heder] has reportedly crafted a crowd-pleasing tearjerker whose commercial promise will easily spark a bidding war between theatrical distributors and deep-pocketed streamers." USA Today summarized the reception, "Propelled by its powerful inclusivity of the deaf community, it's a refreshing reboot of the traditional teen romance and coming-of-age story."
Two days after CODA's premiere, Apple acquired distribution rights to the film for a festival-record $25 million. At Sundance, CODA won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, and a Special Jury Ensemble Cast Award. The film's director Sian Heder won Best Director in the U.S. Dramatic section.
Theaters and Apple TV+
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of 232 reviews of the film were positive, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "CODA's story offers few surprises, but strong representation and a terrific cast—led by Emilia Jones' brilliant performance—bring this coming-of-age story vividly to life." Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 75 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
USA Today reported deaf viewers' varied reactions to the film. They praised the casting and performances of deaf actors, and found the depiction of deaf characters as self-sufficient and sexually active people to be in welcome contrast to previous depictions on screen. Delbert Whetter, vice chair of nonprofit RespectAbility, said, "After seeing so many stories where people with disabilities are depicted as helpless, forlorn souls needing to be rescued, it is so refreshing to see a story with Deaf characters that are small business owners and leaders in their fishing community, with depth and nuance that rival and even exceed that of their hearing counterparts in the story." Deaf writer Sara Nović also said, "I liked that these characters were sexual beings—deaf and disabled people are often neutered or virginal in movies and books, and that's extremely boring and inaccurate."
Jenna Beacom, a sensitivity reader and young adult author, found much of the film "misrepresented, especially deaf people's competence and ability to thrive in 2021", and said that, while "thrilled that the movie exists, in the sense of contributing to more deaf representation and hopefully more opportunities for even better representation", she was "very disturbed by how negatively the movie portrays the deaf and CODA experiences." A deaf parent of a singer herself, Beacom found the film's assumption "that being deaf means that you can't enjoy music, or understand anyone else's enjoyment" to be unfounded. Nović also said, "I actually think the story of a first-gen college student, just without the music—she could have been studying anything—is more compelling, anyway. ... I don't think that we needed the music part for this to be an interesting story."
Nović and Beacom also criticized the film's depiction of the hearing child interpreting for her parents even in situations where professional interpreters would be required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- "Both Sides, Now", a song by Joni Mitchell featured in the film
- Gloucester, Massachusetts § Film
- List of films featuring the deaf and hard of hearing
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- Grobar, Matt (January 28, 2021). "'CODA' Stars Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur & Daniel Durant Talk Authentic Portrait Of Deaf Culture & The Need To Represent It With A Broader Range Of Stories — Sundance Studio". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
- Wiseman, Andreas (May 13, 2019). "Pathé & Vendôme Sign Pact; First Pic 'Coda' Will Be Sold By Pathé, Philippe Rousselet & Patrick Wachsberger On Croisette — Cannes". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
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- "Feature: Coda". fpg.festival.sundance.org. Sundance Group. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
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- Staff (January 28, 2021). "Online Sundance Opens To Virtual Ovation For Deaf Drama". AFP News. Agence France Presse. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
- Lindahl, Chris (January 25, 2021). "Sundance 2021 Market: 15 Movies That Could Sell Big in a Year of Virtual Discovery". IndieWire. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (January 30, 2021). "Apple Lands 'CODA' For $25M+ Record Setting WW Deal; First Major Virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival Sale". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 30, 2021.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (February 2, 2021). "Sundance Film Festival Awards Winners List: 'Coda' Takes U.S. Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
- Rubin, Rebecca (April 21, 2021). "Sundance Darling 'CODA' to Debut in Theaters and on Apple TV Plus in August". Variety. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
- "CODA (2021)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
- "CODA Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
- Oliver, David (August 17, 2021). "'Deafness isn't a monolith': Deaf communities praise, criticize new Apple TV+ movie 'CODA'". USA Today. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
- Jenna Beacom, M.Ed [@jfbeacom] (August 13, 2021). "The Rossis' resistance to Ruby's singing is portrayed as a natural offshoot of their deafness. A false binary is assumed; that being deaf means that you can't enjoy music, or understand anyone else's enjoyment. This is bullshit. (I have a CODA. She sings. Love it for her!) 9/" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Han, Karen; Martinelli, Marissa; Nović, Sara; Thomas, June (August 18, 2021). "There's More to the ASL Performances in CODA Than Nonsigners Realize". Slate. Retrieved August 24, 2021.