A lot has changed since audiences last left Park City and a Sundance Film Festival screening. In just 12 months, the world as we know it has been forever altered. And with the wide sweeping changes comes a very different Sundance festival, one that we have never seen.
So on Thursday night when audiences are usually packing into Eccles theater in Park City, Utah, they were nowhere to be found. Instead, all over the world movie-goers made for their very own couchs and recliners. And what awaited them was one of the most heartwarming, enjoyable Day One premieres I can ever remember kicking off a Sundance.
CODA tells a beautiful story of a Child of Deaf Adults, a story I can’t ever remember being so widely told. Written and directed by Sian Heder (Tallulah) and based off the 2014 French film, La Familie Belier, Heder captures the beauty of so many aspects of life all the while reminding everyone streaming at home how incredible film can be, and how much we have missed the cinematic experience.
The film follows Ruby Rossi, played by the wonderful Emilia Jones, as she balances responsibilities of being a high schooler and helping the family business. She is a member of a family of four, and Ruby’s brother and parents are all deaf. Ruby lives anything but the typical adolescent high school experience and longs for a chance to chase after a boy or discover a hobby that doesn’t involve waking up every morning at 3 AM to fish with her family.
The focus of the film centers on Ruby and her family. Ruby’s Mother is played by Academy-Award winner Marlee Matlin, her Father by Troy Kutser, and brother by Daniel Durant. All three are working deaf actors. The family dynamics, conflicts, and struggles are enlightening and, as I have already mentioned, completely uncharted territory in a mainstream film.
In a film where many of its characters are not able to hear, one of the driving foces is its music. Ruby pursues her love of singing and it leads to her auditioning for her school choir. When her choir teacher, Mr V. (a wonderful star making performance by Eugenio Derbez) discovers what an incredible singer she is, Ruby starts to see that there may be more to life than helping her family with financial troubles and interpreting them through life.
As we see Ruby struggle with her future and the obligation to her family a beautiful story unwinds. The commitment to the script and the inclusivity of everyone in this film is something that shines off the screen. This is a film that is so much more than just a coming of age story. It is a film about the beauty of family, the importance of inclusion, and finding one’s purpose in life.
Heder’s direction is at its best during a scene where there is absolutely no sound. She gives the audience 30 seconds from the point of view of Ruby’s family and it is the most emotionally impactful scene of the entire film. CODA is a movie that emotionally works on every level visually, musically, and audibly.
It is hard to remember a movie that tells such a fresh, original story but is such an utter joy in the process. Most of the film is spent smiling until you realize you have tears running down your face. The performances of Matlin and Jones will warm your heart in these cold winter months and the beauty of the music and storytelling will spread joy in these trying times.
CODA is why we go to the movies. It is why Sundance is so important. And it is why there is nothing like beautiful storytelling. What a way to start a Sundance!