Jacob Richardson | 14/07/2020
Angsty and angry, but hopeful and beautiful, Waves is a compelling film that deserves your attention.
Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is a high-school wrestler, popular jock and loving boyfriend in suburban Florida. Pushed by his somewhat unaware father (Sterling Brown), he continues to wrestle through serious shoulder pain, eventually destroying his hopes of continuing to compete. Despite the loving attentions of his stepmother (Renee Elise Goldberry), he spirals out of control, eventually doing something he can never take back, and throwing his family into disarray - particularly his sister Emily (Taylor Russell), who must now try to string together the broken pieces of her family while dealing with her own sense of guilt.
Waves is very much a movie of two halves. The first, we sit primarily with Tyler, whose feelings of dispossession and anger play out in increasingly violent, out of control ways. The second, we explore the life of Emily, who must not only deal with the fallout from her brothers actions, but come to grips with her father’s favouritism of him, her parents dissolving marriage, and her own sense of guilt, all against the backdrop of her own burgeoning love story.
The film is a pastel and neon concoction backed by a modern, effusive and engrossing soundtrack. It meshes together the disparate elements of the two leads lives, and the wide array of Floridian set pieces (from idyllic backwaters and sunny car rides to intense school gyms, hospital rooms and police siren infused parties) to craft a compelling picture that you won’t be able to stop watching.
From a performance perspective, Waves is faultless. The two leads in Russell and Harrison Jr are outstanding, and bring a vulnerability and nuance to their respective performances that shrouds Waves in a veneer of believability. The supporting cast is also uniformly fantastic, with Goldberry, Brown and Lucas Hedges all standouts.
Visually, the film takes a relatively novel approach to the cinematography, that really helps to bring out the emotion of the piece. The rotating in-car camera work at the start of the film bolsters the sense of fun and freedom, while the constantly roaming camera, pushing in on Sterling Brown’s father figure during Tyler’s wrestling matches, keeps the tension high and makes clear the stakes. The cinematography is never distracting, but it is also clearly there with an astounding level of intricacy and innovation.
Waves is an intense watch, and perhaps not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t shy away from the big issues at play here, and for that reason perhaps a second watch may seem far away when you first leave the cinema. But it is undoubtedly a film that needs to be seen; that deserves a viewing, despite its uncomfortability. It will be worth it.
With a populist modern soundtrack, a penchant for colour-filled cinematography, and a story that subverts expectations to constantly surprise, Waves is a burning treatise on the ripple effects of decisions.