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Laramie Movie Scope: CODA

A funny, heartwarming musical romantic drama

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 17, 2021 – This time of year, I see a lot of very serious dramas, because those are the kinds of films that win awards. Comedies, as most comedians will tell you, are very serious business, but are seldom taken seriously. This is a dramatic, romantic comedy that is funny, and should be taken very seriously.

CODA (stands for Child of Deaf Adults) is a movie based on the award-winning French film, La Famille Bélier. This American version is different because of the commercial fishing business setting, and because the three deaf characters in this family of fishermen are played by three deaf actors.

The most famous actor in the movie is Marlee Matlin, winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Children of a Lesser God” (1986). She plays Jackie Rossi, the mother of the main character, Ruby Rossi (played by Emilia Jones of “Brimstone”). Ruby's father, Frank Rossi, is played by Troy Kotsur of “Wild Prairie Rose” and Ruby's brother, Leo Rossi, is played by Daniel Durant of “You.” Ruby, being the only member of this family who can hear, acts as their interpreter, and she also handles radio duties on the family fishing boat, based in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Ruby likes to sing, but she is too embarrassed to sing in public, having been teased in school for years. She is romantically interested in Miles, a handsome fellow student, and impulsively signs up for the school choir when she discovers Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo of “Sing Street”) has signed up for the choir.

When it comes time for the choir audition in front of colorful and eccentric instructor Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez of “How to Be a Latin Lover”) and the other students, she panics and runs away. She returns later and sings for Villalobos, who discovers she has talent. She gradually opens up as a singer under Villalobos' instruction, and it becomes clear she is the best singer in the choir.

Ruby and Miles are selected by Villalobos to sing a duet at the school concert. Ruby's plan seems to be working out. She and Miles are practicing their duet together and he is attracted to her. But then, there is a setback in their budding relationship after Miles meets Ruby's parents, which results in an embarrassing incident.

Villalobos tells Ruby that she has the talent to qualify for a scholarship to a leading music school, the Berklee College of Music, if she dedicates herself to preparing for an audition. He offers to train her for the audition, and she accepts the offer. Music practices and studies, however, interfere with her duties to her family's fishing business, and she finds herself worn down under the strain. Something has to give.

Even more pressure is put on Ruby when a shortage of fish, increased fishing regulations, and a price squeeze by the local fish processor threaten the family business. In addition, local authorities fine the Rossi family for failure to respond to a Coast Guard radio signal when Frank and Troy were fishing without Ruby. Rossi is ordered to have a hearing person on board his boat at all times.

Of course, it is unfair to pile all the family's burdens on Ruby. She has a right to pursue her own goals as an adult. It turns out that Ruby's family is smart and strong, and quite capable of making a life for themselves without her help. Ruby has underestimated them, just like everyone else in town.

Emilia Jones is a real revelation in this movie. She gives a beautiful performance and has a lovely singing voice. Eugenio Derbez gives a wonderful performance as the smart, wise-cracking school music teacher. Along with Troy Kotsur, who play's Ruby's father, they form the plain-taking, straight-shooting comedy backbone of this very funny movie. Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant also give strong supporting performances. This is a near-perfect ensemble cast.

The screenplay by writer-director Siân Heder (“Orange is the New Black”) is witty and insightful and her direction is very assured. In one scene, Villalobos, accompanying Ruby on the piano, makes a mistake on purpose in order to give Ruby a chance to collect herself and start over, then, seeing her family in the balcony, Ruby interprets her song in sign language for them while she sings it. This is a beautiful, emotional scene, done almost entirely without spoken dialog.

This is one of the best movies of the year. I certainly enjoyed watching it more than any other movie I have watched in recent weeks, and I have seen a lot of movies in recent weeks. This movie rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2021 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]