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Stars: Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, John Fiore, Amy Forsyth

Director: Sian Heder

Young adult movies meet social drama meet high school musical. It shouldn't really work, but it is, in writer-director Heder's loving hands, quite brilliant. The framework of the story is actually pretty hackneyed, but the acting, writing and partially unusual subject matter make for thrilling, emotive cinema.

CODA stands for child of deaf adults, and that's Ruby Rossi (English actress Jones, an enchanting star find), the hearing daughter of an otherwise deaf fishing family (Kotsur, Matlin, Durant). The Rossis are a crude and vulgar couple constantly having sex and living in a tip, but majoring in warmth. It's a happy home with a sign hanging up saying 'Bless This Mess'.

But there's a crisis at the harbour on the Massachusetts coast, with the fishermen being asked to give up a bigger percentage of their earnings to the parent company. They can't afford it, and eventually 17-year-old Ruby and older brother Leo suggest they sell their own fish and attempt to draw colleagues into the enterprise.

Meanwhile, in her final year at high school, Ruby fancies good-looking Miles (Irish actor Walsh-Peelo from Sing Street) and, seeing him enrol for choir classes, and being a fervent singer of pop songs herself, impulsively follows suit.

At first too nervous to sing, she soon comes under the wing of choirmaster/piano teacher Mr V (the charismatic Derbez) who, perceiving her latent talent, drives her hard. Her new love of music, however, has trouble co-existing with her duties helping her family understand what's being said to them, as well as being a full partner on the boat. Getting up at three every morning, she begins to fall asleep in class and starts turning up late for her singing lessons - while her family are horrified at her new-found ambition to go to music college, knowing how important she is to them.

As the director (herself from Massachusetts) pulls pretty well every emotional string (and gives us some funny scenes too), only the hardest of hearts will resist a tear at the end, especially as Ruby's audition piece for music college is Joni Mitchell's Clouds/Both Sides, Now, one of the best songs ever written.

Equally at home singing, signing or working on the boat, Jones (daughter of Aled), is, despite the excellence of those around her, the heart and soul of a film that you don't want to end. And it just doesn't get any better than that.

On Apple TV Plus and digital platforms

David Quinlan

USA/Canada 2020. UK Distributor: Apple (Pathe). Colour (unspecified).
112 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 26 Oct 2021