Award-winning director Trey Edward Shults once again explores family dynamics in Waves from A24. The Williams’ are an affluent black family residing in South Florida who appear to have it all. Son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a popular senior on his school’s wrestling team on his way to college. His parents, dad Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) and stepmother Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry), both have successful careers. While Tyler’s younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) is content with living in her brother’s shadow.
Tyler is living his best life until a wrestling injury threatens to end his wrestling career, and he finds out his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) is pregnant. The night of their senior prom, a tragedy occurs that will forever change the trajectory of the Williams family.
Waves is a film where stellar acting by its cast elevates its simple premise.
Fresh off his scene-stealing performance in this past summer’s Luce, Kelvin Harrison Jr. continues to amaze me with his talent when it comes to his acting choices. At the age of 25, Kelvin Harrison Jr is churning out better acting performance than men twice his age who have longevity in Hollywood. Disappearing into the role of a teenager trying to keep it all together and appease his overbearing father.
While I wasn’t an athlete myself, the struggles that Tyler was going through were very relatable. There’s a particular scene where Tyler breaks up with his girlfriend and doesn’t know how to communicate his feelings to his lady love. Viewing the scene, I wanted the couple to work out, but I knew it was better if they’re apart. In an Oscar-worthy performance, Sterling K. Brown once again shows why he is one of the best working actors today.
We all know that Sterling K. Brown is an all-round nice guy due to his work on This Is Us, and while Brown dabbled in a villain role in last year’s The Predator, there are scenes in Waves where he’s a flat out, mean man. The scenes between Sterling K. Brown’s Ronald and Kelvin Harrison Jr’s Tyler are some of the best in the movie. In hindsight, Waves made me look at my own relationship with my son and how I can sometimes lose my cool with him.
The second half of Waves focuses on the daughter of the Williams family, Emily (Taylor Russell), and her blossoming relationship with Luke (Lucas Hedges). As Emily and Luke, Taylor Russell, and Lucas Hedges have bittersweet chemistry. Both of their characters are social outcasts, and the progression of their romance has a bittersweet aesthetic naturalness.
The beauty of Waves is director Trey Edward Shult’s narrative approach to the film. For me, I took it as the director wanting to use the simplicity of different personalities among siblings for his narrative. Reuniting with his go-to cinematographer Drew Daniels, Shuts even shoots Tyler and Emily’s scenes differently. Tyler’s half is fast-paced, mirroring his energy, while Emily’s has a slower pace, which reflects her calm demeanor.
If Tyler’s arc manifests restriction and no escape from yourself, then Emily’s is all about freedom. It’s a beautiful thing to watch on screen. In retrospect, Waves is an acting showcase primarily for Kelvin Harrison Jr, Sterling K. Brown, and Taylor Russell. Still, the supporting cast is all given small moments. Alexa Demie, whose prior work I wasn’t a fan of, earns my respect for her portrayal of Tyler’s girlfriend. At the same time, Renée Elise Goldsberry provides solid acting work as the Williams’ family matriarch.
Waves is an alluring shot film, which showcases the ripples of our decisions. Waves never make attempts to be more than it is, which is a human drama that will tug at your heartstrings. Highly recommended and one of the best films of the year.
FINAL GRADE A+