Skip to main content

I don’t think being deaf makes it legal to spark a fatty.


(SPOILERS) Were CODA simply a tale of a young woman trying to break free from the shackles of her family in order to live her own life, would it have been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar? Rather than the same but featuring the differently abled? You might as well ask if Marlee Matlin, who co-stars here, would have won the Best Actress Oscar for Children of a Lesser God were it not for similar considerations. Hollywood loves to announce itself as progressive and socially aware. It’s how it sleeps at night amid all that wealth. The only difference between yesteryear and the current environment is the size of the cart leading the horse, and how much it crowds out the rest of the field.

CODA is actually one of the more enjoyable of the Best Picture Oscar nominees, but that still doesn’t mean it ought to be vying for attention as one of the year’s best (and if there aren’t any truly deserving in a given calendar? Well, call the whole thing off, anathema as that may be, rather than look a bit silly – to those who aren’t ignoring the entire thing anyway, which appears to be most in the last few years).

In contrast to the movie’s nomination, I’d suggest Emilia Jones’ performance – where she has to sing, sign and perfect an American accent – is really CODA’s be all and end, and much more venerable than the merely adequate movie it supports. Jones has been nominated for a BAFTA, but she’d also have been given a nod over the likes of “Love that Joker” Nicole Kidman’s plastic-not-so-fantastic Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, had the Academy any standards.

Writer-director Sian Heder has remade 2014’s La Famille Bélier, transposing the storyline to Gloucester, Massachusetts and replacing the family farm with a fishing business. Child of deaf adults Ruby (Jones) is relied upon by dad Frank (Troy Kotsur), mum Jackie (Matlin) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) when it comes to communicating with the outside world, specifically as it relates to all things fishing. But when Ruby joins the school choir, ostensibly because she fancies classmate Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and is copying him, the choir director Mr Villalobos (Mr V, Eugenio Derbez) realises she has a real talent and presses her to audition for Berklee College of Music. Inevitably, the duelling demands of family and calling weigh heavily on our protagonist.

Trying to break away from the ties of home and family are evergreens, particularly when such aspirations are doomed (Billy Liar, Steptoe and Son). But CODA posits an essentially upbeat tale, one where everyone can make hay, if only they apply themselves with positive thinking and action. Heder is undoubtedly guilty of operating in broad strokes – perhaps the French influence – such that Ruby’s family’s predilection for farting, fornicating and generally more indelicate obsessions contrast with her sensitive and artier tastes. Accordingly – and again, this comes from the original movie – it’s perhaps rather on the nose that Ruby should alight upon singing as her vocation. So much so, it would be reasonable to assume mum’s line about her taking up finger painting, were she blind rather than deaf, feels like an attempt to head off such objections at the pass.

Generally, though, such content here is germane, as opposed to the pseudy-swathing of Drive My Car. A working-class milieu is a boon in that regard, offsetting the more fanciful elements. It must be stressed, though, that enjoyable as Derbez’ performance is, the singing sessions are where the picture is at its patchiest. Mr V is repeatedly required to coax forth Ruby’s true range via various breathing and performative exercises; these instantaneously reveal her full potential. The beats missed here are voluble; it’s evident their relationship and her path to prowess needed that extra bit of nurturing, Educating Rita style; Heder isn’t yet a strong enough director to make Ruby’s breakthrough moments feel earned or palpable.

Consequently, the liberal use of the montage is the fall back of any movie or director struggling to hook the viewer, and CODA most notably employs The Clash (I Fought the Law) among several such episodes. Ruby’s audition piece meanwhile, both sung and signed (to her family, snuck in on the balcony) is Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell. You know Joni? That remarkable flag bearer for freedoms and seeing all points of view, as long as they’re in line with establishment groupthink.

Matlin is very good as the earthy mother (and again, more noteworthy than most of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominees). She’s certainly more deserving of awards attention than Troy Kostur’s solid but unremarkable dad (whose most noteworthy quality is a resemblance to a more hirsute Jim Varney). But perhaps the more potent performance among Ruby’s family comes from Durant as Ruby’s frustrated sibling.

Amy Forsyth is also strong as fecund friend Gertie, keen to impress herself on Leo such that she learns to sign her intentions to him (“She just told me she has herpes”). Walsh-Peelo is a bit chinless, though, such that we’re left thinking Ruby really should run off with a cello player who wears a fedora once she gets to Berkley.

As noted, this is Jones’ movie, and I don’t believe it would have made the modest waves it has without her. She earns empathy for Ruby’s every dilemma throughout. And if Kotsur looks a little like Varney, Jones could surely play Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s younger sister (and then doubtless be cradle-snatched by Ewan McGregor, who would then be summarily beaten up by Emilia’s livid, former air-walking dad Aled Jones).

CODA, in a line-up of little-seen Best Picture Oscar nominees – outside of Dune and Don’t Look Up – is probably the least viewed of the lot. That’s chiefly owing to its presence on AppleTV+, a streamer that has everything going for it (you know, such as very visible branding). Everything except content, that is. It’s seen a late-in-the-game surge as a potential winner following its SAG awards showing, but whether that translates to anything on the big night is debatable (it has only three nominations to its name). Regardless, there are much less worthy pictures currently in significantly higher contention for the top prize.

Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death , accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts ) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi