PG-13. This might be the first PG-13 that I've ever seen with "Strong Sexual Content" given by the MPAA. While we do see the parents have sex, they are completely clothed during this sequence and it's almost played for a laugh with how absurd it is. There's some language, but because it is in ASL, it has to be read often to be understood. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sian Heder
Okay, I'm going to make some enemies here. CODA is a good movie that is totally watchable. Academy Award good? More like, "Good for a movie that goes directly to a streaming service." There's a lot here that feels like a Netflix original movie of the week. Sure, it was Apple TV+ that actually picked it up, but the effect is the same. There's a lot of feel-goodery happening in this movie and I don't know why my broken heart doesn't believe that feel-goodery belongs with the Academy Awards. But that's because I'm cynical. I might be a broken person, but that's how I feel.
But I have to divorce myself from the Academy Awards. After all, if I was writing about CODA, I would write about how optimistic the film is. I might lean towards the fact that it is pretty forgettable, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a decent quality family movie underneath. Because that's what is happening here. My loudest points with the movie are going to be complaints, despite the fact that I overall kind of liked the movie. The biggest problem I have about preaching this movie is that it isn't a subtle film in the least. It is a movie that wears its message loud and proud. It's about family and the roles we are forced to take based on our genetic lottery. It's about making choices for others and realizing that people can't be what we always want them to be. It's about singing and passion and all of those things that we've seen in other films, most notably Mr. Holland's Opus. If I wax poetic about those things, I'm sure I'd have some readers screaming, "No, duh. We got that." The goal of an artist is to effectively communicate themes and try to change the world. From that perspective, the movie does its job. It's never a personal message that is meant to be discovered on one's own. That's what makes it not exactly stick to the ribs. But that's okay.
But the issues I have with the story is that it falls under the problems that it knows it has. (That sentence got away from me.) I'm so sorry to Eugenio Derbez, but Mr. Villalobos really detracts from the story as a whole. (That sounds so hurtful. It's not because of him. It's because of the script.) Early in the appearance of Mr. V, he states that "This is not like Glee" or something like that. By that, he means that music and singing is a very gradual practice that involves listening and learning to listen. It's about developing muscles, breathing, and confidence. It rarely is about raw talent. But then the movie instantly proceeds to have every kid in that class show off a wealth of talent with very little practice. Of course, Mr. V gets frustrated with them at every opportunity. But he's this teacher who skates by on sass. He says one thing and everyone instantly gets better. This is clearly a room of professional singers pretending to not be as amazing as they are. Their jumps in quality are hilarious. Now, this seems to be a nitpicky thing, but it is something that detracts from the story because it is wildly underbaked.
At the heart of CODA is a story about a girl being torn between her family, whom she loves and empathizes with. She knows that she is necessary to their survival and that they can do anything given the proper support. She's also being pulled to her passion for music by being given a deadline for an audition. The consequence of her actions is that she isn't doing either job very well, especially considering that she's clearly in love with the boy she's meant to do a duet with. But the story also really wants to stress that she's an amateur with natural talent. It's this element that is raw and underdeveloped. While we get this compelling story of these deaf fishermen taking on those who would take advantage of them, this is contrasted with a sassy teacher who just doesn't have patience for his pupil's reality. I'm writing from the perspective of a teacher right now. Mr. Villalobos knows about her family's difficulties. He knows what Ruby is going through and doesn't care. It is the teacher's job to care for the whole person. Instead, it becomes the Mr. Villalobos show. His obsession for his time is the center of his attention. From a script / director's perspective, I'm sure the story was that he would do anything, even treat Ruby bootcamp style, to get her into Berklee School of Music. But what actually comes across is a teacher who is acting as a diva who has the world at his fingertips. His house is gorgeous. He as a family that takes care of themselves. Ruby comes across as far more mature than Mr. V and that's not the point of the movie.
It's like the Glee thing just ran a highlighter over the issues with the film. Mr. V has an inappropriate relationship with his student. The world of music is far more fantasy musical than reality because everyone else at the Berklee audition is equally if not more talented than Ruby. The judges are extremely forgiving of Ruby's scattered and borderline lazy audition. There are just all of these moments that seem like they are tailored for a fantasy ending that feels a bit forced. The movie also kind of ignores the glaring issue with the story: Ruby needs to take care of the family. There's some implication that Leo's girlfriend can serve the role that Ruby did, but that's gotta be down the line and shouldn't be a burden on her. So while it's a feel good movie, it doesn't really feel grounded. It feels Netflixy and Hollywoody at the same time. There's something distant between the real emotions of the scene and what is actually being portrayed.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.