Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 08/13/21
Review: CODA on AppleTV+
The PG-13 family drama which drops today on Apple TV+ premiered this past January 28th at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Apple beat out Amazon to acquire distribution rights to the film for $25 million, a Sundance-record. My review follows the synopsis and trailer below.
IMHO: CODA has an interesting premise. The experience of a young musically-gifted woman whose parents and older brother are deaf is worth exploring. Likewise, the personal conflict that arises when the opportunity to pursue an educational opportunity based on her gift. The backdrop of a fishing community in Gloucester, Massachusetts (where the movie was filmed) is also genuinely engaging. CODA has all the makings of a really good movie and it did, in fact, win four prestigious awards at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s also a remake of a 2014 French film called La Famille Bélier which adds a certain artsy appeal. Really, the movie is the very definition of Oscar bait.
Unfortunately, in terms of modern cinema clichés, it’s about as Hollywood formulaic as it gets. First of all, while the title of the French original translates to The Bélier Family (you know, the name of the family) but, instead of The Rossi Family (for its central characters), this new version goes by CODA (for Child of Deaf Adults). Let’s face it, on a pure virtue-signaling level, Woke Hollywood finds acronyms for marginalized communities more compelling than simply telling stories of flesh-and-blood families. And, of course, the Rossi Family is marginalized because, in Hollywood’s eyes, the seafaring rubes of Gloucester are apt to either mock or shun them.
The Rossis are played by Emilia Jones (Netflix’s Locke & Key) as Ruby the hearing daughter, Daniel Durant (Netflix’s You) as her brother Leo and Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God) as her parents Frank and Jackie. They all give very fine performances. Durant, Kotsur and Matlin are all deaf in real life and make the most of the material they are given. Unfortunately, in an apparent attempt to avoid being saccharine, screenwriter/director Sian Heder saddles them with self-consciously coarse dialogue (delivered in sign language) that, in my view, drips with condescension. Yeah, we get it. Watching deaf people cursing and going on about sex in sign language is hysterical to us hearing folk. Cheap laughs, at best.
There are other clichés along the way, i.e. Emilia’s coming-of-age romance with a fellow music student (check the box where they recklessly jump off a high cliff into blue water below) and Mr. V, her Mexican immigrant voice teacher who is delightfully eccentric but also stern and wise. In other words, he’s a by-the-numbers character we’ve seen countless times before.
Anyway, after spending what seems like half the movies establishing the Gloucester fishing community as a relatable representation of the supposedly crass and sex-obsessed working class, the movie finally settles into more interesting aspects of the story – such as the regulatory challenges that threaten to sink the local fishers and the aforementioned conflict facing Ruby. By then, however, it’s too late.
I know I’ll be among a minority of critics by not lauding this movie – and, the truth is, when you get past the typical Hollywood triteness, there is actually the makings of a good film here. I’ve just grown a little tired of the Pavlovian game where Hollywood serves up manipulative P.C. mush and audiences are supposed to applaud and titter with naughty laughter in all the right places because to do otherwise is to be seen as unsophisticated.
The bottom line is that the deaf community – and all of us – deserve more respect than CODA delivers.