Waves (2019)
Waves (2019)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.

Release Date: November 15th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Trey Edward Shults Actors: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Sterling K. Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Joshua Brockington, Lucas Hedges




rom driving to wrestling practice to working out to studying in class to frolicking on the beach to attending a house party, Tyler Williams’ (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) high school senior life seems a touch above ordinary – perhaps exotic and exciting. Yet it’s filled with the routines that shape a busy, hopeful, spirited, achieving young man. His sister (Taylor Russell) and stepmother (Renee Elise Goldsberry) and girlfriend (Alexa Demie) are fairly typical, but his father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), presses the boy in every facet of his life, from church attendance to homework to weight-lifting; he’s overbearing but loving, eternally pushing his son to his limits. Yet at the outset, little about Tyler’s life feels amiss.

“We are not afforded the luxury of being average,” insists his father. But when a shoulder injury, which has been causing Tyler on and off pain for some time, proves to be severe, requiring immediate surgery that will take him away from wrestling for even longer than the season, Tyler comes to a crossroads. Should he tell his parents? And will they understand when he can no longer excel in his sport or even compete at all? Can he cope with not living up to expectations?

The camera has a way of moving in hurried circles through scenes, artistically transitioning between not only locations but also characters, who virtually teleport from spot to spot (and from one time to another), keeping the audience just as frenzied as the cinematography. It’s creative but distracting, though it maintains an immediacy that places viewers in the midst of various activities, as if to emulate the hectic nature of adolescence (as portrayed here) – and how it can spiral out of control in an instant. The soundtrack, too, works to narrate emotions and sudden shifts in actions, while the vibrant colors reflect scenic Florida locales, as well as the hazy, psychedelic effects that specific factors take on Tyler’s mental state (and, perhaps, intermittent breaks from reality).

From painkiller addiction to his girlfriend’s possible pregnancy, Tyler is forced to confront some incredibly weighty dilemmas during a highly formidable year. These challenges are very cinematic, playing out intensely and, on occasion, frightfully, moving the mood from jovial to bitter with swift forcefulness. What was once a manageable life, regardless of the commonplace stresses, deteriorates into one of drastic decisions and dire consequences; rebellion, impulsiveness, and recklessness are quick to overtake success and potential. In fact, the steadily escalating events are a bit too extreme; rather than border on the realism of the start, no matter its grimness, it soon reaches a point of unbelievability. Immature self-destruction is reasonable, but every youth’s nightmare coming to fruition in the course of a few days feels unlikely – and excessive.

Although well-paced, largely due to the zippy cinematographic gimmicks (including an odd alternation between widescreen and full screen formats), there’s essentially more than one film here, separated into Tyler’s downfall and then a crime and punishment segue that evolves into a new story that follows his sister Emily. Her physical and emotional isolation becomes a plot of its own, with a completely deviating avenue for storytelling. Even the camerawork calms down momentarily to reflect her sullen mindset and her quest for an identity apart from her brother’s notoriety. Here, there’s even room for comic relief. Can her existence – and a return to normalcy – be independent of her brother’s deeds and her family’s grieving process?

It’s an unusual, unexpected changeover, and one that not only divides the film in half but also creates a secondary narrative – a schism partly welcome yet lacking a natural flow. As the end nears, the tolls of a tragedy on a family, coupled with each member coming to terms with its effects, are absolutely striking, made more poignant by an exceptional sequence between Brown and Russell that reveals the extent of its impact. Despite the questionable structuring of “Waves” (whose story is this?), the scenes of raw emotion are thoroughly moving; they’re so unforgettable that they tend to override earlier flaws. As it turns out, healing can be as tumultuous as destruction.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10