The Best Picture Winners: CODA (2021)

| April 15, 2022

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been handing out awards for more than 90 years, and the results have been spotty at best.  That applied most aptly to their selections for Best Picture.  In this series I am looking down the barrel at each of their selections for better and, very often, for worse.

CODA (2021) - IMDb

Years from now, whenever historians look back to the 93rd Academy Awards, they will have to pick through a morass of strange and awkward occurrences and short-comings just to get to the meat of what the evening was really all about.  The show was, to put it lightly, a mess.  Between addressing the war in the Ukraine and the lingering scourge of COVID, the Academy had to answer for the bizarre decision to hand out the “lesser awards” before the show, address questions of diversity and relevancy and, of course, try and deal with how and why its Best Actor winner committed assault and battery on live television.

Buried in the middle of all that came one of the gentlest and most heart-felt Best Picture winners ever to be given the Award.  CODA seemed to have all the trappings of a movie made for the Lifetime network, but it broke through a certain chain of half-track dramatic tenants and found its footing with grace, good writing and a cast that made it work.

Here was the story of a young teenager named Ruby (Emilia Jones) born to deaf parents who sees the forward-momentum of her life set under the burden of the fact that she is their connection with the outside world.  Her parents Frank (Supporting Actor winner Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin) are both deaf and so is her brother Leo (Daniel Durant).  She can hear, but they cannot – she is the titular Child of Deaf Adults.

The family works as fisherman at Gloucester and their business dealings are made with the help of Ruby who communicates for them.  She is tied to this family but sees the opportunities before her that don’t necessarily include being part of the family business.  This is too much to ask of a teenage girl and that’s where the movie’s drama comes from – she has recently discovered singing.

CODA walks a very fine line.  The set-up could easily be manipulated in a chain of hack-strung cliches and TV movie speechifying, but director Sian Miller keeps the movie on track.  Her script is tight and focused on the characters rather than on the trains pulling the plot forward.  That’s largely in the performances by Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin and especially Troy Kotsur.  You feel these people as a family and you buy the dramatic arcs.  This is the little film that could, and did.  It’s special.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.