SUNDANCE REVIEW: CODAFeb 08, 2021 09:47AM ● By Tom Haraldsen
One of the festival’s opening night premieres may prove to be its largest ever – at least in terms of distribution rights. Director/writer Siân Heder’s CODA stars British actress Emilia Jones and Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin, and tells the story of Ruby (Jones), the only hearing member of a deaf family. At age 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents (Matlin and Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) keep their Gloucester fishing business afloat.
“I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and so I knew about the fishing industry,” Heder said in an interview. “I was drawn to this story and as we put the cast together, we truly grew to be a family.”
Jones, who is 18 and working in the industry since she was 14, said she worked for nine months learning American Sign Language before filming ever began.
“I was moved so much by the script,” Jones said. “I didn’t know anything about ASL before we began filming, and Sian and I had to learn it together. I also had to learn how to sing for my part, as well as how to fish and work on a fishing boat. So this was such a great learning experience for me in addition to having this amazing character to play.
The chemistry of Heder’s cast, including Ruby’s duet partner (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and high school choirmaster (Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez) is magical, so much so that audiences fell in love with this film and a bidding war for distribution began immediately. By Friday, Apple won the rights for a Sundance-record $25 million!
Jones is fantastic – clearly a star for the future. She laughed when she finally saw the finished film because “it was originally three hours long, and they cut 36 scenes!” Heder’s direction and final edit were perfect.