Emilia Jones in Coda

Say what you want about last weekend’s Oscars broadcast (and to be sure, every human on the planet had lots and lots of things to say about it), one of the unfortunate consequences of the Smith fracas was that films and performances got caught in the crossfire and failed to get their due. The most bizarre moment in the history of televised awards shows sucked all of the attention out of a room filled with people who largely think that the world revolves around them.  I suppose you could argue the opposite, in that viewership was up from years in the past, the Oscars became culturally relevant (albeit for all the wrong reasons), and therefore the platform for promotion was inflated.  But no one was standing around the proverbial water cooler the next day talking about the films that won gold statues.

And that’s a shame.  I won’t argue that the Oscars reassumed a place in the cultural zeitgeist because of The Slap; in fact, if you take that WTF moment away it’s hard to see how award shows will continue to generate an audience. I can’t see my kids ever wanting to sit down and watch the Oscars, or even the Grammys, or the friggin MTV Movie Awards for that matter.  And while we’re on the subject, if every movie  becomes a product of streaming television services, will the Oscars and Emmys eventually merge?  It’s all TV now, right?  

As a reminder, Coda won the Oscar for Best Picture.  I was surprised to see that it was in fact the betting favorite at -155.  That -155 however is a bit misleading.  There was no clear frontrunner this year.  By comparison, Nomadland was -670 to win in 2021.  Coda winning best picture didn’t spur me to see it in the movie theaters of course, since it was appearing at my favorite theater, Seidel Cinemas, located at the easy intersection of my family room and kitchen (can’t beat the all you can eat/drink services and free parking).  Its victory did push Coda to the top of my queue which may not have happened otherwise.  I went into it thinking that this movie didn’t feel like a Best Picture, as it seemed to lack the prestige and gravitas a “typical” best pic might garner.  That was based completely on my own prejudices, stemming from how the film was marketed.  But I tried to go into it with an open mind.

All of that rambling is to say that Coda is an excellent movie.  It hit me hard, exceeding my expectations greatly.  Ultimately a film about family, the power of communication and music as the ultimate magical communication medium.  You couldn’t help but be captivated by the insanely talented Emilia Jones, whose lead performance seemed to be an Oscar snub. This is completely unfair since I admittedly didn’t see all of the women’s performances, but it seems hard to imagine that every one of the Best Actress nominees performances exceeded Jones’.  

There are definitely some “after school special” moments that feel a bit too pat or saccharine and may have doomed Coda in another era.  It certainly lacked the epic-ness of a Schindler’s List or Lord Of The Rings Pt 2, and doesn’t own the cultural zeitgeist like Forrest Gump or No Country For Old Men did.  What it has going for it, however, is a story and tone that serve as the perfect tonic for the dark times we are enduring.  Call it the “Lasso Effect” – like its studio mate Ted Lasso, Coda is a piece of art that works because it taps into our collective need for something that will go down easy and serve as an elixir for our repugnant times.  The musical performances remind us that music is an art form that most powerfully captures our humanity.  When Jones performs Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, simultaneously doing sign language to share the experience with her family, it’s hard to imagine anyone this side of Vladimir Putin not being moved.  

To quote Bob Marley, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”.  If only Will Smith would’ve heeded that advice – instead of slugging Chris Rock he could’ve gotten jiggy with him.  Sigh.