Directed by Trey Edward Shults, Waves presents a metaphor for emotional tides of and the ripple effect these can cause. The film is split into two parts:The first part: We follow the life of Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr) in an endless whirl of colour: house parties, beach parties, training with his wrestling team, driving in sunshine with gorgeous girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie). He’s an ambitious high-schooler who seems to have it all.
The film kicks-off in pure bliss, the exquisite camera work, alongside a soundtrack that includes Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Kid Cudi and Radiohead delve us into a carefree Floridian youthful hot summer.
Thus, until cracks in the pretty picture begin to show: Alexis’ period is late and Tyler is suffering from a shoulder injury ahead of the season. He begins to take opioids from his high-achieving father (who has a knee injury) to ease the pain (beautifully performed by Sterling K Brown). The pressure to succeed is taking its toll and his relationships with his family and girlfriend rapidly spiral out of control.
This first half is gripping: the camera tries to keep up with Tyler’s fast paced life until the wave comes crashing down and the film reaches its climax.
The second part: The second half is a numb comedown after the storm. We now focus on Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell) and the ripple effect of his actions have on her as well as the now broken relationship of their parents.
She forms a romance with her endearing classmate (Lucas Hedges). He helps her come out of her shell and she helps him reconcile with his abusive, dying father. Emily’s story is the cosmic ying to Tyler’s yang.
Unfortunately, it’s hard for the viewer to adjust to the loss of momentum in the second half. Form takes over function and the picture feels more like a long music video: swimming in lakes, emotional turmoil. I’m not sure how many more shots of teenagers with their heads dangling out the car window to feel the rush of life I can take.
The film is ambitious. It succeeds in taking you on the journey of bliss to numbness in a blink of an eye, which, in fairness, is a bit of what being a teenager feels like. We just wish these waves had a bit more depth.
Words by Elizabeth Robert