If you want a taste of how the film industry has changed in the past few decades or so, look no further than “Coda.”
This is a film that, a few decades ago, probably would have received an awards push by a major studio. Now, it’s getting dumped unceremoniously into a handful of theaters in the cinematic no-man’s-land of January.
I understand the reasoning for this. The film moves slowly -glacially at times- and there isn’t a single explosion or digital effect in sight. All “Coda” gives us is good old-fashioned acting-with-a-capital-A from a living legend. Is that enough to recommend it? You bet it is.
The great Sir Patrick Stewart stars in “Coda” as Sir Henry Cole, a concert pianist returning to the stage for the first time after his wife’s death. Dealing with a deteriorating mental state and a sense of guilt for his wife’s death, Sir Henry frequently faces crippling stage fright while performing, and the attacks are progressively getting worse.
There are a few other characters worth mentioning – Katie Holmes plays a “New Yorker” writer who inspires and supports Henry, and Giancarlo Esposito plays Henry’s manager- but this is Stewart’s film through and through. He breathes tender life into every scene, whether duetting with Holmes on a piece from Bizet’s “Carmen,” encouraging a young fan or soliciting life advice from his makeup girl.
Stewart is, as always, pitch perfect, and the small but lively supporting cast matches him nicely. The gorgeous score -comprising pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Schubert- is downright heavenly.
It’s a bit of a shame, then, that the script by Louis Godbout isn’t exactly Shakespeare. Not that Godbout doesn’t try – he’s constantly searching for a metaphor in everything, whether that be a chess game, a gorilla in the zoo, or, God forbid, the Baltimore Orioles. Sometimes a middling baseball team is just a middling baseball team Louis.
The endless narration by Holmes could have been removed entirely – like a lot of the script it reaches for meaning that just isn’t there. The third act, which unwisely removes Stewart from both Esposito and Holmes, lags a bit without anybody for the great actor to bounce off of. The languid pace, combined with a somewhat pretentious script, means that “Coda” just simply isn’t for everybody.
Still, there’s some truth in the old joke that a good actor can read the phone book and still find meaning in it. Thankfully, Stewart is one of our best living actors, and the script for “Coda” (unrated, but with PG-13 language) is at least a couple notches above the yellow pages.
If it isn’t Stewart’s finest performance, it is a nice reminder of his power, grace and gravitas. And, if “Coda” ends up being a coda to the 79-year-old legend’s career, that’s OK too. I could certainly think of worse notes for the great man to go out on.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at email@example.com.