One Liner Review:
A pretty good movie with a decent enough premise just falls a little too much into expected territory, especially in its second half.
Here’s a movie with a fascinating premise that hit some reason chooses to focus on the least interesting character of the bunch. It’s about a family of deaf people where one child is born with hearing. And she’s the protagonist. Now it makes sense, in the fish out of water scheme of things, where she’s the character the audience can relate to, but when the movie shows this girls life away from the family, experiencing typical high school situations, it becomes infinitely less interesting. And unfortunately that’s a large portion of the film. The parents are strange, to be certain, but every scene they’re in is fascinating. The movie could have used a little more of them, and a little less of the girl in choir, interested in a boy, trying to get into college storylines.
Coda is a somewhat different kind of movie than what we’ve seen before. At least on its surface. It’s a movie about a deaf family and a girl who is the only member of the family who can actually hear. That’s the setup. And it’s interesting enough to watch conversations about what it’s like to be in that family and all, but as a feature movie (and not a documentary, for example,) it needs to do more. And it does. Just not enough.
To give the family one more point of interest, for their job, they are all fishermen. When I say they, I am referring to the mom, Jackie (played by Marlee Matlin,) the dad, Frank (played by Troy Kushner who won an Oscar for this one,) and the older brother, Leo. These are the Rossi’s. For Ruby, the youngest member of the family, and the only one who is not deaf, it’s a lot to deal with. Especially while also trying to navigate through the waters of high school.
The fishermen story leads to its own subplot about how everyone who works the docks and goes out on the water sells their fish to the same buyer and is being ripped off. Each day the price of what he will pay for the fish becomes less, and on top of that, it gets to a point where they have to allow a government representative to go out on their boats with them for a day, and they have to pay the cost of having this person, out of their own pockets. So, the fishermen story is pretty interesting. Unfortunately we don’t get enough of it.
What we get instead is mostly a typical high school story. This means bullying, boys, friendship, and choir practice. The bullying and friend situations are mostly there in the background. And that’s in large part because this movie is trying to do so much that there just isn’t time for everything. But at one point, Ruby’s best friend starts dating her brother, Leo, and Ruby never even addresses it. Not even a conversation. Both the friend storyline and the bullying situation are mostly just there in the beginning to show what Ruby’s life is like, but then for the most part they are dropped in the second half.
What they are replaced with is mostly a story about choir. Ruby goes from barely trying out to being an instant sensation. And here’s what’s so funny… she had never been into singing, and only signs up for choir because the boy she’s crushing on signs up first. She sees him give this as his elective, and then instantly changes her own elective from what she was planning to do. But even after Ruby signs up, she doesn’t make it through tryouts. Yet somehow the teacher notices her talent and gives her a starring role in the show. How about check on her level of commitment first… this girl who just ran out during tryouts.
The choir teacher is an interesting character, and he spends a good deal of the movie teaching and training Ruby. We go through multiple practices with her and the teacher, her and the boy getting ready for the show, and then her and the teacher working to audition for college. This becomes the story of the second half. Ruby’s decision to go to college. But the show hasn’t even happened yet. Talk about doing too much at once. What we end up getting because of this is two musical performance scenes in a row. First Ruby’s show, and then right after, Ruby’s college audition.
Meanwhile, the story of the parents and brother and their fishing company has taken a beck seat at this point, and that’s a real shame because it was by far the most interesting thing this movie had going on. The parents get so fed up with being ripped off on the price of their catch every day, that they decide to start their own company where they will buy the fish from other fishermen themselves and then sell them. And they offer twice what the other buyer was paying for them. Now how they pull this off, and where enough money to do that comes from is never explained. We just get a quick joke where the nether says announcing that they would pay double sounded like a good idea.
We do get an interesting plot point where the family has that government representative on their boat and the coast guard pulls up. Ruby is not there with them, which means there’s no one on the boat who can hear (other than the representative,) and this becomes a big problem. And when the parents tell Ruby that the representative was the one who alerted the coast guard, it starts to feel like this whole thing was a setup. Only there are no consequences. The point of this story is that it makes the parents feel like they need Ruby even more, and that she shouldn’t go to college, because they need someone on their boat who can hear, but that’s obviously ridiculous. At the end, this whole conflict is resolved by the brother telling Ruby, “we’ll figure it out.” And then we never find out how they do.
Now, there’s a decent reason why we don’t get answers to these things or follow ups on these storylines. The reason is because this is Ruby’s story, and not the story of her parents. But the parents story is far more interesting. And as far as Ruby’s story with her parents goes, there’s a lot there that is clearly ridiculous. Ruby goes with her parents to see a doctor about general warts her dad has, because her dad needs her to translate. You would think, considering the type of doctor this is, and reason for the visit, the dad would just take a note pad, and he and the doctor would write out what they want to say, instead of including his daughter in this conversation, which ends up becoming about he and her mother having sex.
The awkwardness gets worse. At one point, Ruby has the boy over, who she likes and is in choir with, and the parents are having sex, loud. Very loud. It gets to the point where Ruby has to open the door to their bedroom while they are doing it, and flip the lights on and off a bunch of times to tell her parents to stop. As if that’s not bad enough, the next moment has the four of them sitting down together in the living room to talk about sex. This is when the father chooses to give Ruby and her new friend a talk about using protection. Really? Right after they caught you two doing it because you were embarrassingly loud. Luckily the movie isn’t all like this. There are some really nice moments towards the end, one with Ruby and her mom and another with Ruby and her dad. Those final scenes and moments certainly elevate the movie, but for the most part this one is just an okay film.