We all need a bit of inspiration in lockdown, and CODA offers it in spades with its nuanced story about the impact of physical disability on families, and the humour, hope and social challenges that can come with it.
Seventeen-year-old Ruby Rossi is the only hearing person in her family of four, and as such, her life has been spent translating for them and helping them live well in the hearing world. Her dad and brother run a fishing business while her mum stays home doing the books, and Ruby tries to manage school life – and her social life – alongside her family responsibilities.
When one of Ruby’s teachers discovers she has a real talent for singing, Ruby has to decide whether she’ll pursue her newfound musical dreams, or continue being an aid to her family.
As an English-language remake of the 2014 French film La Famile Bèlier, CODA (Child Of a Deaf Adult) widens the reach of an already powerful story about not only coming-of-age, but doing so at a potentially great cost.
Ruby’s journey isn’t only about her own growth, but about how her family is going to fare if they can’t rely on her to be their hearing go-between.
They’re a unit who’ve built their life around co-existing. If Ruby “defects” from the group, her father can be taken advantage of in business, and her mum will become a permanent homebody. Ruby’s brother already finds it difficult to assume his role as the older sibling given his reliance on Ruby, and he struggles with how essential she is to the family.
One thing CODA does really well, is take what is a common experience: spreading your wings beyond the bounds of your family, and colour it with the unique challenges of being a teenage caregiver.
We know every teenagers parents are embarrassing, but Ruby’s are exceptionally so, totally unaware of how loud they’re playing their music when they pick her up from school, and accidentally missing social cues that make them appear rude or inept.
The way CODA combines Ruby’s everyday high school experience with the one-of-a-kind nature of her home life is powerful.
When the movie’s director Sian Heder first pitched the movie to studios she was quoted as saying that, “rather than offer up ‘a precious story about disability’, she wanted to normalise the deaf characters in a story that’s about resilience.”
It’s a goal Sian’s definitely achieved.
In CODA, we’re not only watching a story about a young woman craving independence, but a story about a group in society – the deaf community – who often carry the burden of their own condition because most of world around them hasn’t learnt to include them.
Many of the challenges the Rossi’s face could be alleviated if sign language was commonplace. In fact at one point Ruby’s brother asks why it’s always on him to try and fit in with “hearing people”, and why they don’t have to work to fit in with him.
CODA will leave you with a lot to talk about, but one of the big things is certainly how inclusivity of those with a disability can be a priority and not an afterthought.