As the oldest film school in the U.S. — and the alma mater of filmmakers as accomplished and diverse as George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Ryan Coogler and Rian Johnson — USC Cinematic Arts established a reputation for skilled craftsmanship, rich community and compelling storytelling. This week we spotlight their newest generation of filmmakers, working in a wide range of genres and styles. (This film is open captioned for the deaf, hard of hearing and the hearing to enjoy together.)
For all her life, Alex has been in limbo between two worlds. As a CODA — a Child of Deaf Adults — she has grown up with two parents who cannot hear. But she can hear and exists in that world as well.
Being pulled between the two sides of her life has been hard all her life, and the division within her has affected all parts of her life, including her performance in her school’s dance program, where she hopes to emerge as a choreography.
Then she meets Josh, a charming, handsome and kind drummer who is deaf. Alex falls for Josh and pretends to be deaf to fit into his world more easily. But when Josh finds out the truth, Alex is forced to grapple with and unify the two disparate parts of her life and her self.
Writer-director Erika Davis-Marsh’s compelling, poignant drama captures a perspective and community that rarely gets much screentime. Combining aspects of family drama, dance and romance, it combines beautifully observant writing with rich, intimate camerawork and strong performances to deliver a portrait of a woman trying to find her place in the world.
The storyline toggles between scenes from Alex’s childhood and her present, making connections between being a CODA and her current journey to find a place she belongs, whether it’s romantically with someone else or in her creative practice. But Alex finds it difficult to integrate her experiences: she’s different in the hearing world because she has deaf parents, but she doesn’t quite fit in the deaf world either because her ability to hear sets her apart.
Actor Kerrynton Jones beautifully portrays the internal dilemma that Alex grapples with, able to capture both the euphoria of finding a kindred soul and her voice while also the fears and confusions of never quite being understood. The film is notable as well for using three deaf actors — Ryan Lane, CJ Jones and Antoinette Abbamonte — who give wonderfully vivid, emotionally engaging performances that offer a glimpse into how it feels to move and live as a deaf person, pursuing passions and raising families like their hearing counterparts.
The story of “CODA,” however, belongs to Alex, and ultimately her story is one of a coming-of-age, where she finds her place in the world and takes ownership of her own experience and voice. Seeing her incorporate American Sign Language into the movements of her choreography to tell her own story forms the core of the film’s heartwarming final sequence, and it’s powerfully and unabashedly triumphant. Viewers won’t soon forget the sense of uplift and will likely want more of Alex’s story, as well as a deeper foray into a world that often sits parallel yet invisible to the hearing one — but is rich and full of unique beauty.
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A young dancer falls for a deaf guy, then tries to find her place in the world. | CODA
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