Sundance 2021 opened tonight with a hit. “Coda,” directed by Sian Heder, is based on a French film but re-envisioned by the director, who wrote the screenplay.
The Rossi family in Gloucester, Mass. are fishermen who are deaf. Oscar winner Marlee Matlin is the mom, and deaf actors Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant are the father and brother. British actress Emilia Jones, 18, is the daughter and she can not only hear but sing like a bird. Jones makes a star turn — it’s not her film debut but seems like it is– and could get a recording contract out of this.
Co-starring are Irish actor Ferdia Walsh Peelo, now 21, formerly 16 and star of John Carney’s charming “Sing Street,” who we’re going to see more of I hope, and Eugenio Derbez, a big deal in Mexico who shines here as well.
“Coda”– child of deaf adult — is a formula story that rises way above the norm. It’s completely charming and endearing, with the twist of the deaf storyline. I still don’t understand how they pulled this film off, there’s so much signing and interpreting, and the emotions are real.
I hate to say it, but “Coda” hits every right note: it’s gurl power, overcoming a physical difficulty, with hints of “Pitch Perfect” and “Glee.” Still, you can’t not like it. Whatever distributor picks it up will have no trouble turning “Coda” into a big deal, featuring Jones and Walsh-Peelo on TV getting them a hit record or two. It’s got all those ingredients.
Most pleased should be Joni Mitchell, and Valerie Simpson. Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” is heavily featured, as is Simpson and late husband Nik Ashford’s “You’re All I Need to Get By.” The movie is set in present time but all the music is from the 60s and 70s because, you know, it can be sung and it was original in its time.
Sundance is going to be a little tough, I can see already. Q&As are on a different media than the screenings. There are no press notes. You can’t talk to anybody when the movie is over. It’s like having a hand tied behind your back. But the Sundance press people are doing everything to make it easier, and it will get that way as time goes by, I’m sure.
“American Idol” and “The Voice” take note of this film. This is real singing. And record companies, these kids are yours are for the taking.