When I sit down to watch an arthouse film like Trey Edward Shults’ new movie Waves I have to prepare myself for something abstract where visuals are more important than narrative. Sometimes these movies work for me (Knight of Cups, A Ghost Story) and sometimes they don’t (If Beale Street Could Talk, The Souvenir). With Waves it mostly worked for me but I much prefer the second part of the story over the first part. Let me explain:
Waves tells the story of an African- American family of 4 in Miami, Florida who seem to be living the dream life at first but as we dive in we see a ton of hurt and problems. The first half of the movie tells the tragic downfall of the oldest son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison). His dream is to get a scholarship wrestling but he has an injury in his shoulder he is hiding from his family and coach. He also has a girlfriend who just might be pregnant. As the problems mount up Tyler’s world starts swirling around him until he loses control.
My problem with Tyler’s story is I felt it was very predictable. The styling is beautiful but how many movies have we seen with the overbearing father (Sterling K Brown) and the teen rebelling. It was beautiful but was too reliant on archetypes to move me the way it wanted to.
Then we get into part 2 which focuses on the second child Emily (Taylor Russell). The reason why her story moved me is she has a more unique conflict. I haven’t seen many movies with teenagers who have to forgive their siblings (and others) for the pain and hurt they feel. That struggle was much more interesting to see play out. Also the other characters became less archetypal and more like real people. I particularly loved a little scene between Emily and her Dad as they fish and have an open and honest conversation about their pain and anger.
Emily begins a relationship with schoolmate Luke (Lucas Hedges who I always love) and he has his own demons with his father and his own struggle to forgive. This was much easier to relate to than Tyler’s journey and felt more emotionally true. I kind of wish we could get a sequel because they had incredible chemistry and I bought into their romance completely.
Director Trey Edward Shults makes strong choices that could be gimmicks but for the most part worked for me. The spinning shots got a little nauseating but the colors and use of music helped draw me into the story and give the movie its own identity.
All that said, it’s the message of the movie that makes it stand out. Waves is not only a story about a broken family but how they learn to forgive each other and heal from their wounds. It moved me and I definitely recommend giving this film a shot.
8 out of 10