Song of Myself

CODA

by George Wolf

CODA is the type of welcome reminder we get every so often that lets us know a formulaic story isn’t an inherently bad thing. Fill the formula with characters that feel real enough to care about, and even a predictable journey can be a touching ride.

Writer/director Sian Heder delivers an engaging crowd-pleaser with CODA, titled after the acronym for Child Of Deaf Adults. That child is Gloucester, Mass. high school senior Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones from Netflix’s Locke and Key – just terrific), who’s the only hearing person in her household of Mom Jackie (Marlee Matlin), Dad Frank (Tony Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant).

The Rossi family business is fishing, but Ruby’s real passion is for singing – even though she’s too shy to let people know it. On a whim, she follows her crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) to choir class, where the demanding “Mr. V.” (Eugenio Derbez) sees a true talent buried under nerves. Find your voice, Mr. V. tells Ruby, and you could earn a music scholarship.

Find your voice. Heder comes right out and says it – about a character who literally has the only speaking voice in her family. And in an instant, CODA acknowledges all of the ingredients for another manipulative YA special fest, and then sets about swatting them away through thoughtful writing, smart pacing and wonderful performances all around.

Events are often a tad convenient, but the stakes and the people weighing them always feel authentic. Ruby and her friends talk about sex and drugs. Jackie is a (gasp) proudly sexy and sexual middle-aged woman who also has poignant concerns about raising a hearing child. Frank is a loving family man looking for ways to keep his boat in the water, while Leo fights to prove he’s not helpless, and to push Ruby toward her dream.

And, of course, the title also works as a reference to the end of Ruby’s childhood as she moves to take more control of her own life.

So yes, expect first love, a big moment at the choir concert and a happy ending, but the trip to where we know we’re going is funny and warm thanks to the winning cast and Heder’s earnest command of tone. The spots where she removes all sound to shift the perspective are well-placed and never cloying, adding to the film’s list of sweetly resonant moments.

There aren’t many verses in CODA‘s coming-of-age composition that we haven’t heard before. But these hits benefit from an endlessly heartfelt new arrangement, leaving a setlist that’s familiar, but well worth cueing up again.

Underwhelmed

Overboard

by Hope Madden

More than 30 years ago, Garry Marshall directed one of those Eighties films: good-heartedly hateful and contrived in that colorfully rom-com way, Overboard.

It is the ridiculous story of comeuppance wherein a small-town carpenter (Kurt Russell), cheated out of payment by a scantily clad, uppity billionaire (Goldie Hawn), concocts a plan to get the money he is due when she washes ashore with amnesia.

Flash forward several decades and director Rob Greenberg makes his feature debut after a lifetime of sitcoms, revisiting Leslie Dixon’s 1987 screenplay.

His update sees Kate (Anna Faris) as a single mom just trying to pass that damn nursing exam so she can quit her two jobs (pizza delivery, carpet cleaner) and offer a better life for her three daughters.

She’s sent to sop up the champagne spillage on a yacht, meets spoiled heir Leonardo (Eugenio Derbez), argues and ends up in far worse financial trouble than she’d been in a day before.

Now she’ll never get that nurse’s license!

When the billionaire washes up back in Elk Cove, Kate’s pizza place boss (Eva Longoria) figures the least he owes Kate is some some day labor (so she doesn’t have to replace that job he lost for her), and enough chores to give Kate the time to study.

Only until the exam—then we’ll tell him.

The premise is no fresher or more believable this time around, though they do update in a couple of interesting ways. Leonardo is a Mexican heir; the day laborers only speak Spanish and most of the pizza crew is bilingual Mexican American, so about fifty percent of the film is subtitled.

This is an interesting choice, since the point of both versions of Overboard is to point out the hideous gap in work ethic and morality you can find between the rich and poor. Choosing not to “Roseanne” that image of the American working poor was a solid decision. Not that it can help this movie.

This is simply not a premise that has the strength to stand the test of time. The original was a success on the charm and natural (and obviously abiding) charisma of its stars. Why was it successful? Goldie Hawn was a comic genius, Kurt Russell was gorgeous, and it was the Eighties. That is it.

The remake has none of those things going for it. Greenberg, updating Dixon’s script with Bob Fisher (Wedding Crashers), can’t write his way out of the contrivance. Though Faris is certainly a talent, she lacks the charisma to carry a film.

Perhaps most damaging is the utter absence of chemistry between the leads, making every inch toward romance feel unnatural and, honestly, almost creepy.