By Brent Davidson
24th August 2021

It's not often I find myself watching a film's American remake feeling the same things and being as impacted as I was while watching the original. While 'CODA' may be just that, the impact of the film still resonates on a deep level.

Ruby (Emelia Jones, TV's 'Locke & Key'), a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA, like the film's title) is the only hearing member of her family; her parents Jackie (Marlee Matlin, 'Children of a Lesser God') and Frank (Troy Kotsur, Disney's 'The Mandalorian') and her brother Leo (Daniel Durant, TV's 'Switched at Birth') along with Ruby all work for the family's fishing business, with all relying heavily on Ruby as an interpreter and mediator in many different ways. In typical teenage fashion, Ruby joins the school choir following a boy she likes - and while discovering herself, she also discovers her undeniable talent for singing.


I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I feel like what I've said will give you a good sense of where the conflict that might arise in 'CODA'. You're probably now thinking, "What did he mean, remake?" Well, this film is based on the 2014 French film, 'Le Famille Belier' ('The Bélier Family') - and forgive my ignorance, but it took me a good 20 minutes to connect the dots; "I thought this was familiar!" I cried at the screen. When I saw 'La Famille Bélier' (at an actual cinema - what?!), there was not a dry eye in the house. In fact, there was a woman a few rows in front of me who was having quite the reaction (read: heaving sobs) to what was - and is - a touching film.

There was, however, some controversy.

'La Famille Bélier', while beautiful in its story, had some reaction towards its casting decisions, with Deaf characters played by hearing actors. 'CODA', conversely, has cast Deaf actors in these roles, and there is something in the authenticity of their performances that is impossible to replicate. Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur are perfect as the parents, being embarrassing, loving and supportive all at the same time. Marlee, whose performance in 'Children of a Lesser God' won her a Golden Globe and Oscar for best actress, is beautifully counterpointed with Emelia as her daughter, sharing some very heartstring-tugging moments. Daniel Durant as Leo delivers in spades the mixed feelings of jealousy, love and yearning that tie this family together.

The simplicity and effectiveness of the storytelling paired with authentic performances and actors who don't focus on the language (because it is inherent to them) make it truly wonderful to watch.

This is the strange thing about 'CODA': it's really about the family (not just Ruby), and fundamentally a family that is united in love and care. The simplicity and effectiveness of the storytelling really let the heart and soul of the film shine. Partnered with the authentic performances and actors who don't focus on the language (because it is inherent to them), it's truly wonderful to watch. I don't think I've mentioned yet how funny it is... I know! It sounds like all I've done is described a family drama, when really it's more of a family comedy, and one that should be watched by (and as) a family, for teenagers and up.

Oh yeah, and I cried (again).

It's hard not to walk away from 'CODA' without a smile on your face... and maybe a bit of moisture in your eyes. It's a shining light of a film in a time when we need all the light we can get. As I texted a friend after, "It's nice to cry about something beautiful instead of something tragic for once," and who could want anything more. With authentic performances, storytelling and a whole lot of heart, 'CODA' is a must-watch experience.

Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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