‘CODA’ reviews: Will Sundance crowd-pleaser bring Oscars to Apple TV+?

CODA” was one of the most talked about films at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, winning a whopping four prizes: the Grand Jury and Audience Awards, plus directing kudos for Sian Heder and a Special Jury Prize for its ensemble cast. But how does it fare with movie critics since it opened on August 13? And how will it do at the upcoming Oscars?

Let’s start with the reviews. The film has received positive notices, scoring 73 on MetaCritic based on 34 reviews counted thus far: 28 positive, six somewhat mixed, and none outright negative. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, which doesn’t classify reviews as mixed, only as positive or negative, the film is rated 95% fresh based on 153 reviews counted, only seven of which are classified as rotten. The difference between the MC and RT scores indicates that there is almost universal like for the movie, but not universal love.

As the RT critics’ consensus puts it, “‘CODA’s’ story offers few surprises, but strong representation and a terrific cast — led by Emilia Jones‘ brilliant performance — bring this coming-of-age story vividly to life.” The film, whose title refers to children of deaf adults, is being described as “formulaic” and “old-fashioned,” but with “touches of ingenuity,” “sincerity, warmth and finesse.” And its focus on the deaf community makes it “feel fresh” and “gives us brief insight into an intriguing dynamic that’s been mostly unexplored.”

As for the Oscars, this film could end up being the first nominee for Apple TV+, following other streaming distributors like Netflix and Amazon that have already made inroads with the motion picture academy. Being a Sundance prize winner doesn’t hurt, though it’s no guarantee of Oscar success. 2020’s Grand Jury and Audience Award winner “Minari” turned out to be a smashing success with Best Picture, Best Director (Lee Isaac Chung), and Best Actor (Steven Yeun) nominations, plus a Best Supporting Actress win for Yuh-Jung Youn. But the previous two films that won both of those awards at Sundance, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015) and “The Birth of a Nation” (2016), didn’t make an impact in the Oscar race.

But as of this writing, our early Oscar odds say “CODA” is one of the top 10 contenders for Best Picture and one of the top five contenders for Best Supporting Actress (Marlee Matlin) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Warmhearted family movies often appeal to voters — not just “Minari,” but other indies like “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), “Juno” (2007), “Boyhood” (2014), and “Lady Bird” (2017), to name a few. Do you agree with our early odds that Apple has a winner on its hands — or at least a nominee? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans here in our forums.

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post): “This formulaic coming-of-age comedy-drama … pushes our buttons shamelessly, but also with enough sincerity, warmth and finesse to forestall accusations of rank manipulation. This is an old-fashioned movie that adheres to admittedly familiar principles of storytelling and emotional stakes, but by way of such a winning cast, evocative atmosphere and genuine tone that its impossible not to love.”

Kate Erbland (IndieWire): “What ‘CODA’ lacks in storytelling originality, it more than makes up for with other touches of ingenuity. Chief among them is that it’s a film that focuses on a deaf family and treats their woes as being just as worthy — and relatable — as innumerable other stories that, at least, initially feel just like it. As Heder’s film evolves and leans further into the patterns of the genre, that seeming familiarity becomes one of its greatest assets.”

Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times): “The template of ‘CODA’ — the title is also a term used to describe the hearing children of deaf adults — might be wearyingly familiar, but this warmhearted drama from Sian Heder opens up space for concerns that feel fresh … The actors work together seamlessly, the blue-collar coastal setting is richly realized and the family’s cohesiveness solidly established.”

Benjamin Lee (The Guardian): “Pleasantly ambling along, hitting every beat one would expect, there’s plenty to like here but nothing to really make it stand out from the crowd, filled with films ever so slightly similar … The differentiating factor, that Ruby’s family is deaf, does create some of the film’s more interesting situations, and gives us brief insight into an intriguing dynamic that’s been mostly unexplored.”

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