The Polygon entertainment team is signed up for that 2021 Sundance Film Festivalgoing virtual for the first time. Here’s what you need to know about the indie gems soon to find their way into streaming services, theaters, and the cinematic zeitgeist.
Logline: As her senior year draws to a close, Ruby (Emilia Jones), the only hearing person in her deaf family, is torn between studying music in college and staying home to help – and maybe save – the family fishing business.
Longer line: As CODA, a deaf adult child, Ruby juggled multiple roles at the age of 18. She is a daughter, a student, a musician, a fisherwoman and a translator. In the morning, she lends her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) an ear and an extra pair of hands as they forage for fish off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts. She’s a no-bullshit animated character while frolicking at the dining table with her mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin) or negotiating a fish sale, but she can’t find her voice at school. After getting the attention of the music teacher (Eugenio Derbez) at a show choir audition, Ruby suddenly sees a path for her future: vocal training, the Berklee College of Music, and a life beyond her family. It’s pretty scary.
In that microcosmic moment, everything Ruby knows begins to change. Action against fishing boats systematically examines the deafness of their father and brother and threatens the local fishing industry as a whole. Her musical activities raise questions about what her family will do without her. Everyone is perfect at navigating society without speech, however from July
What is? KODA try to do? Screenwriter and director Siân Heder (Orange is the new black) had previously made the Netflix premiere in 2016 Tallulahwho followed a homeless teenager who accidentally kidnaps a baby she believes needs to be saved from an irresponsible mother. in the KODAShe cuts off a piece of life again and throws it into a pressure cooker. The family drama replaces the ticking clock with a warmer tone and aims to both portray the challenges of growing up culturally deaf and look beyond disabilities to see that the needs of life, whether in a world full of sound or not, are universal.
The quote that says it all: “I can not always be that person. “
Is it going there? Authentic, sensitive and playful, KODA remains human, even when it draws to the heart. Heder leaves no anthropological distance between her camera and the subjects to ensure the film never makes the deaf “others”, yet still makes sense how much we rely on hearing for simple tasks. For the same reason, it is fearless to play longer dialogue scenes in ASL. As they talk about their subjects, Frank, Jackie, Leo, and Ruby swing from low to high emotions, and the physicality of the performances is fascinat ing. British-born Jones apparently learned how to sign up for the role, sing, and put an American accent and you’d never know – she’s holding the film together in an amazing breakout performance.
The circumstances present Ruby and her family with additional, often funny in retrospect, hurdles. When her father suffers from jock itch, his teenage daughter melts in a puddle of awkwardness as she delivers an inflamed genital rash to the doctor and then translates a prescription abstinence recommendation to her mother. On the docks, Ruby and Leo ignore the price of their latest catch – she knows from what she can hear he’s being cheated on, but her older sibling is far too proud to be played as a hero. During a flirtatious rehearsal for their upcoming duet, Ruby and Miles hear Jackie and Franks … lively … Bedroom activity. These are the trials and tribulations of teenage life as well as a twist of fate. (And if there’s a bit that doesn’t quite work, it’s Derbez’s over-the-top music teacher, whose sitcomy tone doesn’t quite match the family-comedy feel.)
Heder finds her way into tension and tougher questions. The family’s fear of the unknown is heightened by the possibilities on the horizon: Ruby has one fabulous Voice, a skill her parents will never see as a viable future for their daughter. The fear comes just as Frank’s own career path is thrown off balance; He’s been fishing all his life, but dock bigwigs blackmailing fishermen turns his life into an Elia Kazan mini-drama. It’s not as dark as At the water, but Frank, Leo, Jackie, and finally Ruby all get into a fight for their business and a living. There’s a lot at stake, and Heder is putting it all together in one mainstream package that is reminiscent of everything Ordinary people
What’s in it for us? The movie camera is uniquely equipped to get up close and capture a spit in sign language, and the results in the hands of veterans like Kotsur and Matlin are fascinating. Writers seldom give two deaf actors the opportunity to participate. Heder gives them painful moments behind closed doors, tender scenes with Ruby, and parts where they’re just stupid parents. Durant best known for playing a deaf character in a reinterpreted revival of Spring awakeningis also fully alive and dimensional like Leo, a tough but sweet young man looking for his own career path.
KODA provides a simple explanation for the importance of on-screen representation: a century of films born from homogeneous perspectives has failed to tell so many stories and left so many experiences unexplored. It is an easy thrill to see famous dramas play in the hands of actors who have often been relegated to supporting roles. Matlin is a hysterical, lively movie star who always plays “the deaf character,” but here she’s the mom, the wife, and the entrepreneur. She has so much to give and Heder taps everything.
The movie may be a little sweet for some tastes (Yeah, I cried, OK, that’s when I said it) but KODA is also refined. In one dark moment, I was grateful for the film’s celebration of family, friends, and life.
The most memorable moment: Okay, I got pretty emotional there, but get ready for an extended sequence where Ruby’s new friend Miles learns the ASL translation of “masturbating in a condom”.
When can we see it? Just days after the festival began, Apple spent $ 25 million on the rights to KODA, a record for a Sundance acquisition. Look for it on Apple TV Plus at some point in the future.