Director: Trey Edward Schults
Writer(s): Trey Edward Schults
Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell
Synopsis: The journey of a suburban family who has to recollect after a tragedy.
This film is one of the most colorful and beautiful films of the year. The soundtrack is great, the acting is great, the colors are great, and the direction is ambitious as hell. So, why was this film only just above average?
It could be because of the complete lack of substance and character building. While what this film has does well, it is what the film does not has that left a bad taste in my mouth. The amount of flair and glam that this film had become so repetitive, that it seemed like a scene could not be framed or shot unless it was done in some stylistic manner. In the filmmaking, there was little to no nuance or subtleties. Everything was in your face in what seemed like a showboating type of “look how good this looks or sounds”.
At times it honestly felt like they were overplaying the style of the film because they were not exactly sure what they wanted to do. Making the main family of the film live in a mansion and have nice cars and everything they wanted did not help me grasp on to the “you need to fight for what you have”. The father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), says he pushes his son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) because he wishes his parents had pushed him. Well, Ronald is the head of a construction plant, lives in a large house, and throughout the film tells Tyler he will not ever achieve what he has earned. It is these small moments that really stick out and make you wonder what the real intentions of this film were.
And then, when a certain situation happens with Tyler, it is almost underdone. Situations like what happens between Tyler and his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) felt almost unoriginal. What happens is a very real thing that happens, but I had not been under the impression at any point that it could have been handled in a much better way. I think that is where making Tyler come from a wealthy household hurts the film tremendously. No situation felt too big or that there was no way to handle what was going on.
Then, in the second half of the film, it seemed like everything was underplayed. Family situations that could have, and should have, given really emotional moments for these characters were blown off. The movie gave me no interest in these characters in the front half of the film, that in the back half, as they were going through this recollection phase of their lives, as an audience member I just had very little care. The stakes never seemed high in this film, and when the emotional moments were given to us, they never felt earned.
From a filmmaking standpoint, it was extremely hit or miss throughout the film. The front half of the film was just stylistic choice after stylistic choice. The beauty was surface deep, and behind that surface, there was nothing to cling on to. The colors were oversaturated throughout the film to the point where the began to almost make no sense. The soundtrack, from a strict music aspect, was really great. But, how they used some of the songs were so on the nose and so in your face that it began to feel like it was done in a pretentious manner that did not sit entirely well with me.
The performances were the real standout from the film. Taylor Russell as Emily was almost a nonfactor in the first half of the film, but during the back half, she was a powerhouse. Not every scene worked, but she worked in almost every scene. Lucas Hedges also did his usual thing during the back half of the film and brought a lot of humor to the film. The movie was already feeling long, but at least with these two, it became somewhat bearable having them on screen. Kelvin Harrison Jr. was good with what he was given, but his character hit a point where he became so unlikeable that it was hard to really care for what happened to him. Because he was one of the protagonists, you wanted him to do well, but nothing about his home life or relationship with his parents really stood out as something the audience should feel bad about.
Sterling K. Brown probably gave the best performance of the bunch. He was the only one who got a real character arc throughout the entire film. A brooding and overindulgent father, who wanted the best for his kid, but thought that was through pain rather than love. His recollection of being the one who probably caused this whole madness was the saddest and most gripping part of the film. My issue with this character is he was built up to be a force, and then when push came to shove he was down for the count. It just did not seem to fit with what they are going for and was a more egregious moment than it honestly should have been.
Final: The ambition is there, however, Waves has a ton of style with no purpose. Its beauty only runs surface deep, and not even the plethora of talented actors can save this. The soundtrack is awesome and it really does look pretty. The issue is the film is everything and nothing all at the same time. Still, some solid performances and potential make this film just above average. I liked it enough for what it was, but I hated it for what it wasn’t.
My Score: ***
Current Tomato Score: 85%
Current Metacritic: 81
Current IMDb: 8/10
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.