‘CODA’: Almost pitch perfect

Leena Hussein, Senior Staff Writer

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) uses American Sign Language to describe how singing makes her feel to her music teacher. (Photo credit: Apple TV+)

Spoilers included in this review

Sometimes silence does in fact speak louder than words.

From its tear-jerking and heart-warming moments, to scenes of utter and complete silence, “CODA” (2021), written and directed by Sian Heder, presents a unique and moving take on a stereotypical teen coming-of-age story.

The three-time Academy Award-nominated film illustrates the struggles of the deaf community through the eyes of the main character, Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones). Ruby is the only one in a family of four who can hear, making her the ambassador of communication on the daily.

Ruby navigates through the last year of high school in the coastal Cape Ann’s Gloucester, waking up at 3 a.m. every morning to help her Dad (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) with the family fishing business. Simultaneously she learns to embrace her own identity and passion for singing when she joins the school choir in hopes of catching the attention of her love interest

Not only does the movie represent the deaf community (which has been seen recently in movies before such as “A Quiet Place”); it gives insight on the challenges of being the odd one out in an already-secluded family, which is a unique and appreciated addition in a standard teen drama.

The screenplay does unfortunately have classic coming-of-age Hollywood moments such as the main character dramatically grabbing her bag and sprinting out of the room after she chokes in rehearsal, and managing to get paired up in a duet with the popular choir star, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who she unsurprisingly falls in love with.

Despite the predictable and underdeveloped love story, it is gripping to see how the relationship changed between Ruby and her mother, played by Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin. The two fight with each other regarding Ruby’s role in the family for the majority of the film, showcasing the highs and lows of unconditional familial love. Ruby, although loyal to her family, feels confined to her expected role as the translator. Over the course of the film, she develops an itch to leave the family business and attend music school, creating a riveting conflict between characters.

Much of the movie is in American Sign Language, and the deaf characters are all played by deaf actors, which makes the film that much more special. It becomes easy to get accustomed to watching the movie through the provided subtitles, and despite that unique cinematic difference, the humor in the film does not disappoint. Sarcastic jokes through the Father and Leo’s commentary help provide viewers with an authentic feeling of familiarity, giving insight into a community so many know so little about. 

Sian works to make the film feel realistic and close to viewers’ hearts. In one of the most climactic moments, Ruby must give her first performance as an arising musician.

The scene transitions from listening to her astonishing and pitch-perfect tone, to complete silence. It is the only scene where viewers are able to experience what life is like for Ruby’s family, but it is undeniably the most potent and chilling moment in the film. The crisp camera angles that catch darting looks between Ruby’s family and the audience, mixed with the vivid colors coming to life as the sound subsides puts viewers on the edge of their seats.

CODA stands as an acronym for “child of deaf adult.” Here, it is the perfect title to a movie that creates a stronger understanding of a marginalized community and highlights unique familial struggles, while giving jaw-dropping musical performances, and tingly chills from its emotion-packed scenes. 


1 hour 51 minutes

Rated PG-13

Directed by Sian Heder

Starring Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Marlee Matlin