When Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) sings, her heart is lit up. The 17-year-old high school student hums Etta James’s legend Something’s Got a Hold on Me while sorting through the daily catch on her family’s fishing boat in Massachusetts with unselfconscious abandon. She closes her eyes tightly, her shoulders encircled by a groove. Her voice is stunning and gorgeous, despite the fact that neither her father, Frank (a brilliant, drily amusing Troy Kotsur), nor her elder brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), appear to notice. The fact that they didn’t pay any attention – they didn’t listen to her, was revealed straight off the bat.
The 2014 French comedy-drama La Famille Bélier remake centres on the hearing daughter of deaf parents, who cherishes a dream of becoming a singer. This mega-hit notched up notable success at this year’s Sundance film festival, winning four of the festival’s top awards and striking a record-shattering $25m distribution deal with Apple TV+. The reason isn’t hard to figure out: it brings a sense of cozy, fluffy, and warmhearted film that takes an iconic coming-of-age story and weaves it into a contemporary political agenda. Tallulah, the writer-director, attaches importance to boosting and strengthening the long-overdue representation of the deaf community on screen, letting deaf actors take on deaf roles (a responsibility that the original movie shied away from).
Ruby is a Coda – a hearing kid of deaf parents. Being the lone hearing member of her rambunctious family, she has been a bridge for her family to the hearing world, explaining their American Sign Language (ASL) to the local fishing community. It’s a full-time commitment that conflicts with her academics, social life, and, most recently, choir practice, which she signed up for on the spur of the moment. Her music teacher, Bernardo “Mr V” Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez, striving for inspiring cuddliness), realizes her noticeable skill as well as her shaky confidence and encourages her to audition for Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He advises breathing exercises and a duet with – eek! – her crush, Miles (Sing Street star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), is armed with an unending supply of motivational quotations and weird cardigans.
The two are slated to play Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell‘s Motown classic You’re All I Need to Get By at the school show, which provides an opportunity for them to practice a cappella in Ruby’s small bedroom. If this sounds unsettlingly similar to an episode of the strident https://www.adventureindubai.com/accutane-acne/ adolescent television program Glee, fear not; it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Heder opts not to frame the picture as a succession of over-the-top musical sequences, as many films do. Instead, the scenes in which we hear Ruby sing, such as one in which she hesitantly, then furiously, belts out Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, are rooted in feeling rather than showmanship.
Ruby’s mother, Jackie (played by Marlee Matlin) is a former pageant queen who is failing to connect with her daughter for a variety of reasons. With a tinge of bitterness in her voice, she poses the inquiry “If I was blind, would it make you want to paint?” This is the deaf actor’s most high-profile part since her Academy Award-winning performance in Children of a Lesser God in 1987, and he delivers an emotionally nuanced performance. Jackie, frustrated by Ruby’s musical preoccupation, prohibits the use of headphones at the dinner table. However, swiping through son Leo’s Tinder possibilities is allowed as “something we can all do as a family.” In contrast to the quiet, conscientious Ruby, her brother and parents are always in search of their own pleasure, which the film attempts to balance by playing for laughs. When she and Miles overhear her parents discussing safe sex in the bedroom, Frank sits them down for a cringe-inducing discussion on safe sex. Miles learns the hard way what the American Sign Language (ASL) phrase “put a helmet on that, soldier” means. When adapted to an American setting, the original film’s Gallic comedy seems delightfully filthy.
Moments like these characterize the Rossi family’s deaf members — their humor, their politics, their parenting, and their ambitions. Thus, it is a missed opportunity since, like the original, the film filters their experiences via an able-bodied protagonist. Heder mostly overcomes this by astonishment at Ruby’s heartfelt, go-for-broke honesty. To her credit, British actress Jones is near-perfect in every way. Her singing voice is wistful and melodic, tinged with desire and a touch of loneliness. It serves as the film’s hidden weapon, skillfully employed in a concluding duet in which she serenades her father under the stars. The picture is a painstakingly, if not cynically, produced crowd-pleaser. Even those who are aware of its techniques may find themselves wiping away a tear or two.
The film is released on Apple TV + and in cinemas.