A classic teenage embarrassment gets a twist in CODA sneak peek
After proving irresistible to the far-flung audiences (and critics) of January's virtual Sundance Film Festival (where it smashed a sales record and won four awards), Sian Heder's tender coming-of-age drama CODA hits theaters and Apple TV+ next weekend — and what a journey it's had.
The film — a charming clip from which EW can exclusively reveal, above — was shot in 2019, at which time Heder "had fears that maybe this movie was going to sit on a shelf and not be seen," she admits to EW. But the little indie managed to score a buzzy debut, even in quarantine, and it's finally hitting the now-reopened big screen. Heder wouldn't have it any other way. "I think the pandemic really gave us an appreciation of the people we love and who make us who we are," she says. "In a way, it's very resonant with the themes of the film."
CODA — an acronym for "child of deaf adults" — stars Emilia Jones as Ruby, a teenage girl and the only hearing member of her family, which owns a small fishing business in Gloucester, Mass. While she provides indispensable help to her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) by interpreting for their company, she also secretly dreams of becoming a singer. As graduation approaches, she must choose between her passion and her obligation to her family.
"I think CODAs can have a very strong connection to deaf culture, and then sort of feel between two worlds but also a part of neither," says writer-director Heder, who adapted the movie as an English-language remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier. Heder immersed herself in deaf culture, studied American Sign Language, and worked with ASL experts to write the script, which was "a very specific process," she says. "It's not a one-to-one translation."
That specificity in the film's dialogue applied to the entire production. An authentic depiction of the deaf experience, including the casting of Ruby's parents and brother, was of the utmost importance to Heder and the whole team. Matlin — the only deaf performer ever to have won an Oscar, for 1986's Children of a Lesser God — says she responded to the material immediately: "It's all about the writing, and it was accurate. There were very accurate details handled with humor, handled with heart."
Like Heder, Jones didn't previously know how to sign, but the young actress says the experience of making the film, learning about deaf culture, and discovering the expressiveness of ASL "changed the way I work as an actor. The deaf community taught me the real meaning of communication."
Check out the exclusive clip above. CODA hits theaters and Apple TV+ on Aug. 13.
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