Coda – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant and Eugenio Derbez. Directed by Sian Heder Written by Sian Heder Length: 111mins

As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), Ruby Rossi (Jones) is the only hearing person in her family. We are steadily introduced to the life that the Rossi’s have created for themselves, the family fishing business as a key part of their day to day routine and Ruby serves as the ears on the boat listening out for the radio calls, and plays translator when communicating with the other fishermen. But when the future of their fishing business is threatened, Ruby is torn between following her passion to get into Berklee College of Music and the heavy weight of abandoning her family at a time they need her most.

There’s nothing spectacular in the plot, nothing that’s particularly unexpected or included to shock the audience. Just a story of normal people, their struggles and how they grow together to resolve their issues. Although a simple plot, the characters are written well. Each character within the focal family has their own opinion on their familial situation and as we get to know them as the audience, the slight differences show through and the cracks start to show. It’s a situation where even if you disagree with a characters opinions or demands, you are given enough information or emotion to at least realise why they might feel the way that they do – I appreciate that sounds pretty basic but it creates an atmosphere where none of the characters (apart from the high school bullies) are the ‘bad guy’.

 I did find it a bit difficult at the beginning of the film in the family scenes, because I was trying to watch the performances at the same time as read the subtitles; an element that I’m certainly not complaining about but just had to adapt as a viewer. Having said this, it didn’t take long to adapt and it’s really quite incredible to see the skill of emotional and comedic acting while the actors are also communicating through sign language. All of the performances were strong, Troy Kotsur was obviously recognised by the Academy as well as other award bodies. Emilia Jones played the lead brilliantly, audiences can really feel the emotional tug of war that she plays throughout, all while dealing with the usual teenage ‘stuff’ that everyone faces throughout education. Daniel Durant and  Eugenio Derbez also gave really memorable performances that broadened the character mix, keeping the film and it’s little twists and turns interesting. 

In all honesty, I’m a little bit torn on it’s Best Picture win. I loved the film but it definitely felt like more of a ‘viewers choice’ than an academy choice. I say this lightly as it’s probably one of my favourite best picture winners, but it lacked some of the elements that you would usually expect from the nominated films. Perhaps it’s a shift in how the academy is voting or maybe the film moved it’s voters so much that they didn’t care about what is usually done. Either way it doesn’t matter, Coda gained the film worlds greatest accolade and I truly hope that more people see it because of their win, because it’s a movie that should be seen. 

I had the privilege of watching Coda with a good friend of mine who is hard of hearing herself and who has hearing loss within her family. I think most would struggle to hold their tears in by the end of the movie, but to watch my friend well up and comment on moments, sharing “thats how ****** felt” or “I can totally relate to that” made me realise that even as someone who tries to be considerate to people, not knowing how well they can hear or see etc…that I haven’t always considered just how difficult and exhausting it must be to struggle with a disability that is invisible and can be so devastatingly isolating. Coda helped me open my mind and be more aware of being deliberately kind rather than ‘passively decent’, to anyone around me who may be struggling.  

Coda is so pure, and it deserves to be seen. If it’s showing at your local cinemas I urge you to watch it on the big screen, but if not, you can find it on Apple TV. 

Minari – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim, Noel Cho and Yuh-Jung Youn. Directed by Lee Isaac Chung Written by Lee Isaac Chung Length: 115mins

Minari is a wonderfully absorbing and moving family drama. Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based it loosely on his childhood growing up on a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s. It’s a basic story, not especially dramatic or complicated, but it pulls it’s audiences into the vulnerabilities and intricacies of family life while focussing mainly on the young son, David, and his Grandmother. Minari is infused with a really warm sentimentality and, while Chung has explained that it is a fictionalised account of his rural childhood, he has managed to create a real sense of authenticity from start to finish.

From the opening shot Minari adopts the visuals of a well-loved classic, it’s difficult to explain other than it feels familiar. Perhaps this is an element that Chung fought for, that familial essence of a regular family experiencing life. The story itself explores the issues faced while balancing medical concerns, family tensions and the driving desire to establish a successful family farm. One component that was really interesting to me is that this focus on the relational journey of the family was the key narrative in a story that on paper could have delved into a ‘fish out of water’ immigration story. The film makers haven’t attempted to speak to the full experience of being a Korean in America and racism, when encountered in the film, is only communicated by an unthinking child; an interaction that moves swiftly into a friendship. I’m pleased that the topic of racism wasn’t avoided completely, it’s vaguely present, but isn’t the driving force of the story and invites the audience to understand that immigrants experience other issues as well as racism in their day to day lives.

While the whole cast presented really strong performances you have to mention Yuh-Jung Youn as Grandma and Alan Kim as David. A lot of the story focusses around the relationship between the two and they create something so pure. There’s nothing stereotypical about their character choices and it allows the audience to feel a real sense of inclusion as their story develops. Something that was very refreshing was that Chung didn’t feel the need to increase the drama unnecessarily, he managed to create a really lovely ‘flow’ that was maintained by authentic characters.

Minari is really about the universal dynamics of a family struggling to survive and daring to want to thrive. Of what happens to men, to fathers, when they feel they have to succeed at the expense of everything else, including the very family they’re claiming to do it for. But also about roots: how they’re sunk and can be torn out if not tended to. The gentle, quietly rhythmic pace could mistakenly be called a lack of dynamism, but actually there’s a boldness and confidence in the complete lack of emotional and dramatic manipulation. Unfortunately due to the events of 2020 I fear that the opportunity to watch this film is significantly limited, but I implore you, if you get the opportunity to watch it on the big screen, please do. It’s really lovely work and deserves to be seen by the masses.