peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2022 08 01 CODA

CODA (2021)

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On the pile since it got heavily Oscared at the start of the year. Deaf cinema is having a moment (cf Sound of Metal), though the eye here seemed more firmly on Academy glory than any sort of innovation; unsurprising perhaps as it's an American remake of a 2014 French-Belgian film. An Apple Original production.

Briefly: the almost-adult child of deaf adults (Brit Emilia Jones) helps her family fish in eternally sunny Massachusetts. Her singing voice is discovered when she joins the school choir. Beyond that it's just a matter of pandering to audience expectations: the outre over-concerned music teacher (Eugenio Derbez; presumably JK Simmons was unavailable), the nasty girls, the ignorant, vapid but irresistibly cute boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) she's required to duet with, the slutty best friend (Amy Forsyth), the nods to boomer culture. (Perhaps David Bowie is having a moment too, though citing his Song for Bob Dylan seems a bit irrelevant in a singing, not songwriting, class — Jones only ever sings other people's material.)

The movie is flawed in so many ways. It goes looking for problems that could have easily been managed with only marginally more awareness. This comes at the cost of more fruitful possibilities, such as the dynamic she has with brother (Daniel Durant) which shows early promise (he's the most sympathetic to her situation) before sliding into irrelevancy and cliche. The deaf bits are so much better than the rest (and for the usual reasons: they are physically expressive, fun, funny and inclusive) whereas the musical stuff was entirely dispensable, the ending sappy sentimental guff. Nevertheless I enjoyed almost all of the performances and was very happy to learn that father Troy Kotsur got an Oscar (for best supporting actor); his scene with Jones, on the tailgate of a ute at the fag end of things, was brilliant. Mother Marlee Matlin (Oscared for Children of a Lesser God) was also fine.

Being such conventional Oscar bait, I felt it was exploitative. Jeannette Catsoulis: drowned in formula. Amanda Morris for the deaf community: about us not of us. Peter Bradshaw: shallow. And so on.