Day One of the mostly virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival kicked off with Sian Heder’s family drama CODA, a delightful film that offers a new spin on the standard coming-of-age tale.
Heder’s story focuses on Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a teenager who happens to be a “CODA“—child of deaf adults. She’s long served as an interpreter for her parents, Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and her big brother Leo (Daniel Durant). Both by necessity and preference, the Rossi family has existed outside of the hearing community. They rely on Ruby to be the bridge between the two worlds, especially when it comes to the family’s fishing business.
Teenage Ruby nobly does her duty by waking up at 3 a.m., heading out on the water with Frank and Leo, then bargaining a good price for the day’s catch—all before school. The fact that the family’s livelihood stays afloat because of Ruby becomes all the more clear after she discovers her gift for music. Now she must choose between supporting her family and following her dreams.
Though it hits the familiar notes of a teenage outcast yearning to break free and discover who she is, Heder’s story delivers a refreshingly unique and, at times, tear-jerking look at growing up. Under her direction, this story feels brand new—even if viewers know exactly where it’s heading.
Sundance 2021 runs from January 28th until February 3rd. Click here for more Sundance coverage.
Rachel West’s review originally appeared on the Alliance of Women Film Journalists site.