There's always an eager wait for a few of the films that debut at the Sundance Film Festival at the start of each year. This time round, a lot of the buzz has mostly been about CODA, a truly heartwarming piece of cinema that Apple TV have pulled a masterstroke off in acquiring for their streaming service.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the sole hearing member of a deaf family – a CODA, child of deaf adults. Her life revolves around acting as interpreter for her parents (Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur) and working on the family's struggling fishing boat every day before school with her father and older brother (Daniel Durant). But when Ruby joins her high school’s choir club, she discovers a gift for singing and soon finds herself drawn to her duet partner Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Encouraged by her enthusiastic, tough-love choirmaster (Eugenio Derbez) to apply to a prestigious music school, Ruby finds herself torn between the obligations she feels to her family and the pursuit of her own dreams.

CODA is one of the most impressive films when it comes to representation in recent years, Sian Heder seeking to make as authentic a film as possible that opens the door to an intimate and heartfelt story of a young woman trying to do best by her family while having her own dreams of being a singer. 

Heder's writing is as strong as her direction in CODA, moments of comedy scattered throughout and largely played through Ruby's parents as they don't let their condition hold them back from embarrassing their daughter, as all parents tend to do. The film comes with some emotional moments with some serious weight to them, again with the parents involved, one being a brilliant moment during the school concert where the father gauges the talent of his daughter based on the reaction from other members of the audience. The sound design is immaculate at this point as we don't hear a thing and are just left to spend a few moments in the shoes of Ruby's parents.
It's always great when a film feels like the platform for an actor to launch their career and CODA very much feels like that for Emilia Jones, a star being well and truly born from an incredible performance that much of the film hinges on. You can really feel the frustration of the character both with her family and wanting to break free from the small town to try and grab her chance at stardom. It very much reminded me of Jessie Buckley's performance in Wild Rose and that's certainly not a bad thing at all.

If Jones is the emotional heartbeat of the film, Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as Ruby's parents are the lungs that breathe such vivacious life into proceedings. Both deliver such great performances that really do stir the emotions.

With Apple TV buying the distribution rights after the film impressing at Sundance Film Festival, it's great that many more people will get to see one of the best films of the year. I don't think this is the last we will hear of CODA either, come awards season it could be a major player.

Verdict: ½


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