Coda tells the story of Sir Henry Cole and Helen Morrison.
Sir Henry (Patrick Stewart) is a world-famous pianist who hasn’t played in public since his wife died several years ago. He’s about to embark on a comeback tour but he finds himself struggling with stage fright. Some of it is because he still hasn’t recovered from the loss of his wife. Some of it is because he’s getting older and his memory is no longer as good as it used to be. And, a lot of it is because he doesn’t know who he can trust. He fears that the only reason people will come to his recitals is because they want to hear him screw up.
Helen Morrison (Katie Holmes) is a former music student who is now a writer for The New Yorker. She is a free spirit who desperately wants to interview Sir Henry and write a profile of him. She is also the film’s narrator, which means that the film opens with her talking about Nietzsche. That’s never a good sign as Nietzsche is the philosopher who is most likely to be quoted by people who are trying to sounds smart by pretending that they spend their spare time studying philosophy.
I’m tempted to say that Henry and Helen solve crimes but sadly, they don’t. The film probably would have been a lot more fun if they had. Instead, Henry struggles to find his confidence and Helen struggles to help Henry find his confidence and there’s a lot of scenes of Henry trying to play the notes while Helen stares off into the distance. Eventually, it leads to a very mild love story and a few scenes of a bearded Henry walking through the Swiss Alps. The Alps, as always, are quite impressive.
(I visited Switzerland the summer after I graduated high school. Beautiful country but don’t even think about trying to leave dinner early.)
This is one of those films that I wanted to like more than I actually did. I mean, it’s a serious-minded film for adults and there’s no explosions or gunfights and we’re all supposed to be in favor of that, right? Add to that, it features Patrick Stewart doing what Patrick Stewart does best, revealing the inner humanity of a somewhat imposing character. And make no mistake about it, Stewart gives a warm and likable performance in the lead role. It’s impossible not to empathize with Henry when he finds himself staring down at his piano and wondering if he’ll ever again be able to use it to create beautiful music.
But, ultimately, the film doesn’t really work. It’s a bit too slowly paced and the dialogue is full of lines that are meant to be profound but actually feel rather empty. Katie Holmes does her best but Helen never feels like a fully-realized character. For the most part, she’s just there to inspire Henry before vanishing from the movie. Fortunately, once Helen’s gone, other characters show up to continue to inspire Henry. It really does seem like a full-time job, keeping Henry inspired.
The film did improve a bit when Henry arrived in the Alps, largely because the Alps are lovely and there’s a scene where Henry has a dream about standing next to Beethoven while staring over the edge of a cliff. The imagery was breath-taking but it’s not enough to save the movie. That said, if anyone ever makes a documentary about Patrick Stewart hiking through Switzerland, I’ll be the first to watch it.