CODA was released early this year to critical praise during the Sundance film festival. It has been picking up some steam this month as well, with a lot of praise targeted towards Troy Kotsur for his fantastic performance. However, I think it’s worth discussing the film’s lead actress, Emilia Jones, for her work in the film as well.
Emilia Jones hasn’t been in many leading roles up to CODA. Her filmography is littered with various supporting roles, and a scattering of leading roles from the past two years. However, through watching CODA, I wouldn’t blame people for being convinced that Jones has been a leading actress for a long time. Rubi Rossi is a demanding role, requiring Jones to learn how to both sign and sing. And these must be utilized to highlight the opposing forces Rubi faces in her senior year. These challenges alone showed just how talented and disciplined Emilia Jones had to be for her performance to fundamentally work.
But her performance goes beyond the languages and skills she had to learn for the film. Many actresses have learned to sing for movies, and while they often have a fair amount of Oscar Buzz surrounding them (I’m looking at you Emma Stone), singing alone does not make a good performance. What Emilia Jones does so well is use her facial expressions, her body language, vocal control, and eyes to convey every emotion that Rubi faces in the film. When Rubi signs to her parents, Emilia often brings in words to elevate what she is saying. The vocal performance directly impacts the signing performance, adding energy to the discussion. But even when she doesn’t speak, she utilizes her arms and hands to add emotion to sign language. It’s impressive work and enables the audience to truly get invested in the character.
When Rubi gets to go and take a day off off work and be a kid, Emilia Jones’ performance tells us everything we need to know about how Rubi feels. The sarcastic, guarded performance at the start falls away, as Rubi embraces the joys of being free. And Emilia Jones portrays these masterfully, creating a transformation that we see as the audience. The best example of these moments I would argue are seen when Rubi is working with Mr. V, when she is pushed to embrace her ability and be brave. When Mr. V tells her to make the ugliest sound, and Rubi responds with yelling, Jones’ performance extends into moving her whole body, pushing forward as if releasing the fear within. It’s intimate and fundamental to this film.
For that reason, I think Emilia Jones isn’t a name to gloss over this awards season. Frankly, the work she put in shows her dedication to the craft, and her masterful use of her talents and skills earn her a nomination.