review by Bobby Blakey
Films focusing on real life situations can be compelling, but often times they also end up being kind of slow and boring if not handled correctly. The latest film Waves, I knew nothing about other than the cast including Kelvin Harrison, Jr, Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Neal Huff, Clifton Collins, Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry and Sterling K. Brown. Could this film offer up a story worth telling or will it just be a cruel reminder of mundane life?
Waves follows the emotional journey of a suburban African-American family— led by a well-intentioned but domineering father—as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the aftermath of a loss. From acclaimed director Trey Edward Shults, Waves is a heartrending story about the universal capacity for compassion and growth even in the darkest of times. I love going into movies like this with no expectations of even knowing what it is about as it offers a sense of freshness that it really needs. This is a story that screams real life and a lot of it resonated some of my own true life experiences and in turn really implanted itself in my memory.
This could have easily been a straightforward feature, but director Trey Edward Shults has taken some creative liberties to create a fully immersive experience that works, but might not work for some. One of the immediate aspects that I loved about this film is that it showcases an African-American family that is secure and well off without all the stereotypes often thrust in to try and change the tone. This is a well-adjusted close knit-family that has issues like every other family but doing fine. Like life, a series of unexpected and sometimes uncontrollable situations changes the course of everything and in turn impacts everyone involved and around them.
The story is told in two parts with the first focusing on Tyler played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. His story is the majority of the film as it showcases his fall from star athlete with big dreams and opportunities. The things he deals with are similar to ones I dealt with and had me feeling his fear and pain. His performance is excellent offering up great moments showcasing all the
emotions needed to bring this role to life. He is exceptional in the role and has some very big hurdles to jump in order to carry the majority of the film on his shoulders which he seemingly does with ease.
The second half of the film is focusing on his sister Emily played by Taylor Russell. She has a different journey which is the side of these movies we rarely see. Hers is her own, but it is all a byproduct of the events through the first portion. She is rarely seen in the first half of the film by design and when you see her story unfold it makes so much sense to the bigger narrative. She is great in the role, also bringing that wide range of emotions needed for the character to work. She has a harder job in some ways as her journey becomes not only her own, but dealing with others as well. Bringing them all together is Sterling K. Brown whose role as their father is important and not without its own flaws, but one that will no doubt leave an impact.
Where the story sounds pretty straight forward and it is on the surface it’s the additional chosen elements including music and visuals that make it something different. There is a moment in the film where the aspect ratio changes with the story and really puts you into the situation. The music digs into your soul as it works through the steps of the story to fully engage you in the varying ups and downs of the tale. At times I did find the music a bit too loud and drowned out elements, but that was likely on purpose.
I applaud the director for taking so many chances in this film to make it a stand out piece of cinema that is the reason people go to the movies. It won’t work for some and may be sensory overload for others, but I for one connected on a personal level and loved it from beginning to end.