“Traces the journey of a suburban family – led by a well-intentioned but domineering father – as they navigate love, forgiveness, and coming together in the aftermath of a loss.”

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer: Trey Edward Shults
Staring: Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alexa Demie, Sterling K. Brown, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Lucas Hedges
Rated: R
Release Date: November 15, 2019

Waves (2019) is a dramatic story of a family of four in Florida going through traumatizing moments. Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a high school wrestling star with a bright future and a loving girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie). Tyler’s dad Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) is a domineering presence constantly pushing his son to the limits, so much so that Tyler can’t tell him when he is not mentally or physically able to perform up to those elevated expectations.

Catherine is the mother of Tyler and tries to empathize with her temperamental son, but she can’t possibly predict that tangle and intangible struggles that her boy is tangled up in. She and Ronald run their own business together, but their synchronicity in commercialism is not as easily transferred to their respective parental styles.

Emily (Taylor Russell) is the daughter of Ronald and Catherine. She starts of as a mere bystander in Waves, but when Tyler finds himself in more trouble than he can handle, Emily as a character emerges as a different point of view in a different family dynamic.

When we meet Tyler in Waves, he has already been through many different high school struggles; i.e. getting into first relationship, losing virginity, and establishing trust (or lack there of) with parents/authority figures. The second half of Waves is dedicated to watching Emily tangle these monumental life moments with the haze of her brother’s mistakes consistently hueing her expectations.

The TLDR theme of Waves is that life is hard. Mistakes are made. How do we deal with those mistakes when we know we are to blame, and how do those close to us learn from the those events that affected them, whether it be directly or indirectly?

Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) working out with his father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown)

Waves is not an easy watch. In fact, it is really hard to watch. Waves is a perfect example of a movie that is both meaningful and recommendable, but remains on a pile of films that you will probably never want to watch again. Writer and director Trey Edward Shults makes this family’s trauma a therapy session for all of its viewers. You are forced to listen, even when all you want to do is squirm out of the uncomfortable moments.

The edge-of-your-seat I just want this to end feeling of Waves is this Shults story is very different from his previous A24 production. With that being, he still loves playing with a messed up family dynamic. In 2017 he directed It Comes At Night, which was about a family in isolation from a desolate unnatural threat. In the slow-paced thriller, the father of the focal family is a bit domineering and his paranoia about the world is tested when a desperate young family arrives at their doorstep seeking refuge.

The outside world is a dangerous place, and how you deal with it has profound consequences on yourself, your entire family, and those closest around you…whether or not the threat is supernatural or all to real.

Side note…the trailer for It Comes At Night is one of the best I have ever seen. I have linked it below at the bottom of this post. Alright, back to Waves.

The dichotomy between Tyler and Emily is the best part of Waves. It also helps that Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell give the two best performances in the movie.

Both Tyler and Emily deal with drugs.

Tyler is doing the drugs alone, to cope with emotional and physical pain that he feels like he can’t talk to anyone talk about. Emily is asked about doing drugs, and is in a trustworthy environment with people around her in case something goes wrong. She is not taking drugs to escape anything, but rather to experience something new.

Both Tyler and Emily deal with sex.

Tyler has a steady girlfriend who gets pregnant, and together they have to make very hard choices. The two argue about the future and their possible child and are quickly forced to reckon with the consequences of being sexual active. Emily loses her virginity with her new boyfriend Luke (Lucas Hedges), and the experience is one stapled in reality…with the man being being humbled and together, coming to the realization of what just happened. (I did not mean for the world play there…but I am leaving it).

Both Tyler and Emily have a relationship with their father, but they are very different.

Tyler is pushed by his father. Ronald is constantly keeping his son on a treadmill towards “his” dreams. They lift weights together, talk about his wrestling, and are working towards getting better. Ronald never things to ask Tyler how he is in the Now, instead its all about the Future. When Emily and Ronald have their sit down fishing (the award worthy scene for both), it is a fluid conversation about how the two are doing in that exact moment. It is a father and daughter moment forced upon them by built up emotions and self-loathing. It is a venting session where both can actively listen and talk to one another. It is something that we never saw Ronald have with Tyler.

Both Tyler and Emily deal with death.

Tyler has hands on death, in a very literal sense. He sees it happen through his own eyes. He hands are stained with blood. He knows what it’s like to see the life leave the eyes of someone he cars about. Emily has a different experience; she sees death through the eyes of someone she cares about. She sees Luke having to deal with it. She sees him suffering, and she sees the person he cares about trying to fight for just one more goodbye.

Both Tyler and Emily have dreams. Both have aspirations.

Come the end of Waves, we have a young man in Tyler who can’t achieve anything he once wanted because of his own actions. Come the end of Waves, we have a young woman in Emily who sees an sunlit road for herself, but she don’t know where it goes.

Waves was not nominated for any Academy Awards, but the movie still garnered some attention throughout the world. Taylor Russell was most honored by numerous associations, citing her as a upcoming star in Hollywood. In some areas she was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Waves was named one of the years ten best films of 2019 by The National Of Review (NBR). Also included on that NBR list are 1917, Dolemite Is My Name, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, Marriage Story, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, Richard Jewell and Waves.

STANKO RATING: B (3.5/5 Stars)

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