Emilia Jones stars as Ruby in Sundance Film Festival entry CODA (Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

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CODA – which stands for Child Of a Deaf Adult – is an adaptation of the popular 2014 French film The Bélier Family, but is an example of gentle but rewarding filmmaking in its own right.

Set in the peaceful community of Gloucester, Massachusetts, 17-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is the only member of her culturally Deaf family who is hearing.

After joining the school choir, Ruby feels empowered to pursue her dreams of being a singer and also finds a new romance with her school crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peel).

However, when Ruby’s personal dreams begin to come into conflict with her family’s struggling fishing business, will Ruby be able to keep a hold of all she wants and needs?

With a lightness of touch from director Sian Heder, CODA is a warm, sensitive, and well-judged family drama.

Ruby's loved ones watch her perform in CODA
(Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

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Anchored by a sympathetic but understated performance from British actress Emilia Jones, the film follows a Ruby searching for her priorities, dreams, and voice amid her own loyalties to her boisterous family.

The castings of the Rossi family are brilliantly chosen and there is genuine chemistry to their dynamic. Tony Kotsur hits some of the best emotional notes as dad Leo and Marlee Matlin brings texture to the more torn parent Jackie. Daniel Durant also offers understated authenticity as Ruby's frustrated brother.

Of course, a real scene-stealer has to be choir tutor and exuberant music artist Bernardo Villalobos, played with charisma by Eugenio Derbez. In what could be just a cliché empowering teacher role, Derbez and Jones make another fun thread for the film.

Music teacher Bernardo Villalobos, played with charisma by Eugenio Derbez in CODA
(Image: Mark Hill/Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

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In fact, all of the acapella musical sequences featuring Ruby are utilised in a wonderfully soothing way, but feel particularly special when she expresses her relationship with music through sign language.

While CODA may just be a formulaic journey in some ways, the powerful use of sound design, its widespread use of sign language along with sensitive but practical humour surrounding the Deaf experience is especially fresh and authentic.

A true crowd-pleaser that may not be the most emotional or hilarious dramedy about a teen finding herself, it will still jerk some tears and prove to a rousing watch.

Verdict

CODA is a charming and sensitive coming-of-age tale from director Sian Heder that also proves Emilia Jones is a star on the rise.

CODA premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2021 but does not currently have a UK release date.