“Waves” doesn’t completely crash, but it doesn’t provide much of a rush, either. This low-key family drama packs nearly a dozen crucial life elements into a single story. Unfortunately, writer/director Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes At Night”) doesn’t gives us anything fresh or insightful about any of them.
Shults continues a recent trend by playing with the aspect ratio during “Waves” (director Noah Hawley does the same in “Lucy in the Sky”). The transitions signify the five different “sections” of the film. However, the technique (once again) is more of a distraction than an enhancement to the overall experience.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who’s so good in this past summer’s little-seen “Luce”, gives it his all again, this time as Tyler, a high school senior and star wrestler. Dad Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) vigorously pushes his son – both physically (in their tough training sessions) and mentally — to be great. Brown backs his consistently strong work on TV’s “This is Us” with this performance. He is the statement piece of “Waves”.
Tyler’s adoptive mom Catharine (“Hamilton”’s Renee Elise Goldsberry) and younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) are also very much a part of this cautionary tale, which, without getting too deep, goes from one bad decision and unfortunate circumstance to another. Eventually, Lucas Hedges (who has now officially been in every live-action movie released in the past three years) shows-up. His character brings plenty of his own baggage to this already messed-up dynamic.
Watching “Waves” is a challenge – not in understanding what’s going on, but in trying to understand some of the decisions Shults makes. The 360-degree spinning camera shots, intense close-ups and modern hip-hop soundtrack choices all feel forced. The connections and resolutions in the final act don’t completely come together emotionally. And I’m still trying the figure-out how the title applies.
But the biggest problem with “Waves” is that we’ve seen all of the film’s “family in crisis” situations depicted on the big and small screen countless times. This movie brings nothing new to them and has nothing new to say about them. There are a couple of high-adrenaline moments and a few effective, appropriately quiet ones.
“Waves” will undoubtably be campaigned as a powerful, inspiring and vital awards season contender (it has a clear “Moonlight” vibe). But I, for one, won’t be riding that tide.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Waves” gets a C.
Running Time: 135 min.