Reviews by Joyce Glasser KODA (now streaming on Apple TV+) 12A, 112 min.
KODA, funded by Apple, is the first film about a deaf family starring three deaf actors to win a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay. The three are Marlee Matlin (Jackie Rossi), Troy Hotsur (Frank Rossi) and Daniel Durant (her son Leo Rossi). Hotsur also made history by becoming the first deaf actor to receive a BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actor. The film portrays the deaf characters not as disabled victims, but as financially independent, hard-working, and community heroes.
So there’s a lot going on KODA, which has won hearts and votes for the upcoming Academy Awards. But there’s no getting around the problem that this is an ‘adapted’ screenplay, a close adaptation of a formulaic and painfully predictable French film with the title La Famille Belier.
There are a few notable differences. Instead of seeing a farming family in rural France, Boston-born writer-director Sian Heder sets her remake in the quaint seaside town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, giving us a stunning backdrop. We’re treated to picturesque harbor scenes that will look familiar to those who have seen Kenneth Lonergan’s 2017 drama. Manchester by the sea.
A more important change is that while the Béliers appear to be wealthy enough to be able to afford to hire a farm hand, if not a separate interpreter, the Rossi cannot afford to keep their hearing daughter Ruby (Amelia Jones) through to replace a paid employee.
Instead of running for mayor as in the French version, father-husband and troubled boat owner Frank Rossi (Kotsur, in the most nuanced performance) protests against the middlemen and dares to set up a risky cooperative; an endeavor that will require the deaf family to integrate with the other fishermen.
The most significant difference is that deaf actors play all three deaf characters. It is interesting, however, that this was not Heder’s demand, but a condition for winning the Oscar (children of a lesser god) Participation of Matlin. Good for you!
The story couldn’t be more familiar. A child, in this case Ruby, rebels against her parents (Hotsur and Matlin) to follow her dream and God-given talent. She is supported by a sacred teacher-mentor, in his case the choirmaster Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), and encouraged by Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a selfless crush turned friend.
In the well-known story, the child’s love for his parents and feelings of guilt make him abandon his dreams. The tension in the plot arises from the resolution of this unfortunate situation. Will the parents’ love enable them to make a similar sacrifice? There is one more obstacle to overcome. Ruby is bullied because her deaf parents pick her up at school, because the radio is blaring (Frank hears the echoes of rap music, which he loves), and because she cycles to school from dawn and smells like fish. Will her participation in the choir and talent and interest in popular Miles reverse this situation?
The big twist is that the family members are deaf, with the exception of the second of the two children, Ruby, who ironically has a golden singing voice. This makes the parents’ objections to their dream more interesting. They are naturally concerned that their child will fail in a precarious industry (especially since they cannot hear and judge their own voice). But their main objection seems to be a selfish one: they will lose a free boatswain and interpreter who has been on call 24/7 all her life.
This selfish objection is understandable, but it hardly endears us to parents, especially when the demands of Frank and Jackie’s co-op business clash with Ruby’s studies. Mr. Villalobos is so impressed with Ruby that he offers her free coaching for an audition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In a barely believable scene, the parents plan an important television news interview intended to promote their business without telling Ruby, let alone aligning it with their schedule.
Such carefree writing characterizes the relationship between Ruby and Miles. Ruby develops a crush on Miles before joining him in choir rehearsal. When they get together to sing a duet (at the oddly fall concert, although it looks like the action takes place in early summer, nearing completion), they fall in love. However, when Miles tries to convince a defensive Ruby that he doesn’t laugh at her family but laughs with them since they’re a breath of fresh air alongside his miserable but physically “normal” family, she shows no interest in his family troubles. If (and this is a spoiler) the circumstances are such that he won’t go to Berklee, Ruby also shows no interest in where he will study and what he will do in life.
The French film was also controversial because of the questionable humor in the portrayal of the parents. Although Ruby is spared showing Miles her panties when she gets her period (yes, that happens in the French version), she is not spared the ordeal of interpreting for the doctor who tells her parents that her crotch itch is from moisture (from the boat) and they are not allowed to have sex for two weeks. When Miles accidentally discovers the couple having wild sex that afternoon, Ruby is not only humiliated but reminds her parents of the doctor’s orders. Focusing on this strong sexual appetite might show that deaf people have normal sexual urges, but the script goes overboard and risks turning the couple into buffoons.
Luckily, Jones, who learned American Sign Language for the role, is a fine actress with a great voice and her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s I looked at life from Both sides… now is the eye-catcher. It’s a shame, however, that most of the song – which was sung to her parents in the film’s climax scene – is sung over a montage of voiceovers. And as lovely as it is, the song choice is odd because by this point Ruby – and, as we see in an emotional father-daughter scene, Frank – have learned the meaning of love – from both sides.
This English remake of a formulaic French film has a lot going for it, but not that much.
Source link This English remake of a formulaic French film has a lot going for it, but not that much.