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Review: 'CODA' is the most endearing movie you'll see all year

Emilia Jones appears in "CODA" by Sian Heder, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Emilia Jones appears in "CODA" by Sian Heder, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance Institute)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

GLOUCESTER, Massachusetts — "CODA" became the Sundance Film Festival's most lucrative film ever when it sold to Apple Studios for a whopping $25 million earlier this year.

This week, Apple will find out if the deal pays off as "CODA" heads to its streaming service, Apple TV+, available for general audiences. It will also be available in select theaters.

In Sian Heder's endearing dramedy, Ruby (Emilia Jones) is a child of deaf adults, from which the film derives its title. Ruby has a great singing voice, but as the only hearing member of her family, Ruby's deaf parents and brother don't appreciate her gift.

When her family's fishing business is endangered, Ruby is torn between her passion for singing and her need to protect her family.

"CODA" is one of the sweetest and most endearing movies you'll see all year. It will have you alternating between laughing in stitches and crying like a baby.

Here's why you won't want to miss the award-winning Sundance hit, as well as a few reasons why the movie isn't a complete success.

The cast has hilarious chemistry

Jones is supported by a great cast, including Troy Kotsur as her father Frank, Daniel Durant as her brother Leo, and, Academy Award-winner Marlee Matlin as her mother Jackie.

The four have hilarious chemistry as a rough-around-the-edges fishing family who play as hard as they work. While other inferior movies might focus on their characters' deafness and put them on a pedestal, Heder objectively portrays them just like any other family. They're not perfect — they drink, they do drugs, they curse at each other (in American Sign Language) during arguments at the dinner table.

But while the family's dynamic is frequently played for laughs, Heder doesn't take the actors for granted, either.

Kotsur, Durant and Matlin all have their own dramatic moments to shine. Kotsur, in particular, has one scene with Jones toward the end of the film that is sure to get the tears flowing.

It wears its heart on its sleeve in the best way

Most of these emotional moments have to do with Ruby's family members wrestling with how to appreciate her gift when they can't hear her singing voice. Heder portrays these moments with weight that sometimes comes dangerously close to being corny or manipulatively melodramatic, but the scenes have a tenderness and earnestness that keeps them feeling genuine.

Without spoiling anything, Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" plays a major part in the film. To whip out such a great song to do some of the emotional heavy lifting in a pivotal moment of your film almost feels like cheating.

But somehow, Heder is able to pull it off. Other critics have noted that "CODA" pulls off cinematic tricks that would never work in another film. The movie is so effortlessly sweet that it's pretty much impossible not to feel emotionally invested in Ruby and her family, even if some moments might be a little cheesy.

It bites off a little more than it can chew

When "CODA" strays away from the family at its center, it gets a little too cluttered with side plots that feel inconsequential.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Miles, Ruby's duet partner-turned romantic interest. Wash-Peelo was great in "Sing Street," a movie that's similar in a lot of ways to "CODA." But Miles feels underutilized and his story is a little unnecessary.

Eugenio Derbez puts in a strong turn as Bernardo, Ruby's choir teacher and mentor. His part is bigger earlier in the film, but by the third act I was left wanting more from his character.

A side plot featuring Ruby's best friend taking a romantic interest in her brother was played for laughs, but felt tacked on and unnecessary.

What parents should know

"CODA" is rated PG-13 for strong sexual content and language, and drug use.

The movie is certainly raunchier than PG-13-rated fare from Marvel or Disney. There are two brief sex scenes, including one where a girl walks in on her parents. No nudity is shown in either scene.

There are also frequent crude sexual jokes and profanities throughout the film, mostly signed in ASL. There are two instances of the F-word signed in ASL, which is more than most PG-13 movies typically include. There are a few scenes of adults drinking alcohol, and one scene where an adult smokes marijuana.

"CODA" probably isn't appropriate for most young children.

Is it worth watching?

"CODA" is pandemic-era escapism at its finest. The movie is charming, sweet and uplifting and will allow you to forget about the bad news of the day for a couple hours.

It's the perfect movie for a streaming service — an uplifting crowd-pleaser that is relatively family-friendly. On a lesser streamer, like Apple TV+ instead of one of the streaming titans like Netflix or Disney+, "CODA" could potentially fly under the radar. But it deserves attention, and hopefully lots of people will check it out.

"CODA" is rated PG-13 for strong sexual content and language and drug use. It's available now on Apple TV+ and in select theaters.

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