“Lord knows, I’ve held onto way too much hate in my life. But all we have is now. All we have is now.”
Upon walking out of the theater after seeing Waves, a woman approached me to say, “that was wild.” “Wild” is an odd way of putting Waves into context, but for the benefit of small talk, I agreed. My ramblings about this film cannot be justified in a mere 600 words, because I must say, you don’t just sit and watch Waves, you experience it. Everything about this film hits you in both the heart and the gut. The film tells the story of Tyler, a young well-to-do athlete who’s collegiate future hangs in the balance due to issues that soon arise. Not to mention, his strong willed, extremely masculine father, that pushes Tyler, and seems to never be satisfied with the good that Tyler is able to achieve. A normal family on the surface, only to peel back the layers to reveal something more complex. Passionate, heart-breaking, and everything a drama should be. Waves can stand among the best of the year as a purely intoxicating film.
This is an ensemble performance, and one that can easily rub elbows with some of the greats. The acting from all those involved, is outstanding. Sterling K. Brown plays the overly masculine father, who though his screen time is short, gives an award winning performance. Or at least, it should be an award winning performance. Brown has done something in tearing himself away from his normal sympathetic characters in order to portray this domineering father. A separation that has surely paid off. In that same group of “wow” is Kelvin Harrison Jr. What more can I say about this young man? His performance of Tyler is something that is not of this world. Harrison, in Luce, made us take note. But in Waves, he explodes. Harrison is a chameleon, and fully transforms into the characters he plays, no matter how ruthless they may be. I can keep telling you about Harrison, but this is a performance you must see for yourself.
Now, here is where the story gets interesting. Waves is broken up into two parts, neither of which is able to fully stand without the other. Without giving anything away, the second part fully introduces us to Tyler’s sister, Emily, played by Taylor Russell. I sadly haven’t had the opportunity to watch Russell in anything prior to Waves, but it’s hard not to take notice. Your heart will go out to her whenever she is onscreen. Emily is the soft, empathetic one, next to Tyler’s raging bull. There is a moment between Emily and her father. The chemistry between Russell and Brown is something that’s hard to get perfect when these two characters have so few moments together. However, this scene will blow you away.
Director Trey Edward Shults knows what he’s doing. Scene after scene, the surroundings envelope you. Gosh, it gives me a strange feeling just thinking about it. The music loudly thumps in the background, the voices are raised, and the camera sends you into dizzying motions that throw you a bit off balance. But it’s all on purpose. That’s the point. Waves is like a dream you experience as you’re thrown right in the middle of these people’s private lives. The crash of waves, the cyclical elements that are apparent in a relationship between a father and son, or mother and daughter. All these storylines, no matter how big or small, come together beautifully to make for an incredible ending.
Waves is nothing like I thought it would be. There’s a huge amount of ambiguity that surrounds this film. To be honest, I love that! Waves will grab ahold of you and won’t let go. You’ll flinch at the scenes that are too painful to watch, and maybe even cry when a character’s heart breaks. It’s layer upon layer as secrets and pasts are slowly revealed. An absolutely exquisite piece of cinema. Waves, to put it simply, is “wild.”
Written & Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Sterling K. Brown