CODA is an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults. This film revolves around the Rossi family of Gloucester, MA. Troy Kotsur, Frank, and Daniel Durant, Leo, are a father-son fishing team. Both are deaf along with Jackie, the mother, played by academy award winner Marlee Matlin. Emilia Jones, Ruby, is the focus of the film as she is the only speaking member of the family. Ruby discovers music and has a supportive choral instructor who pushes her to apply to Berklee College of Music.
Children of deaf adults must navigate two worlds and can have responsibility thrust upon them at a young age. The film spends just enough time in day-to-day life with the family to set the stage for the expectations around Ruby. She wakes with her father and brother to be their ears on the fishing boat in case the radio goes off and to help them negotiate the sale of their catch. She attends a doctor's appointment with both of her parents. They are diagnosed with jock itch and cannot have sex for two weeks, all which Ruby has to communicate in both directions.
With Ruby as a focal point, we get three different interactions. The relationship with her brother is particularly interesting. He is several years older than her but constrained to rely on his sister, or so it appears. He goes through a wonderful story arch where he takes responsibility back from his sister and switches their roles to be more protective of the family. It is a believable emotional struggle that he is facing, but he can overcome. The relationship with each of her parents is different as they disagree on their level of reliance on Ruby. The film has a happy ending, but it is an emotional journey to get there.
The idea of living in two worlds highlights challenges with communication. This is also true for many children of immigrants. English is a challenging language to learn, and subtle cultural norms can also be a challenge. Some challenges are the same for non-English speaking parents and their English-speaking children as for CODA. There are plenty of opportunities for self-reflection and mapping one's own experiences onto this film if you lived in two worlds growing up.
This film continues to highlight an underrepresented community on screen. Children of a Lesser God won Marlee Matlin an Oscar and cemented her position in Hollywood. Sound of Metal explored someone going deaf and their desperate struggle to retain what little hearing they could. CODA explores a challenging relationship that some children grow up in. All these films tell unique stories that deserve screen time. CODA is another wonderful film about a subject most of us know far too little about.