When people ask me what film from last year they should see that they haven’t heard of, the answer is always “Waves,” a powerful independent drama from filmmaker Trey Edward Shults.
The film follows the lives of a middle-class Miami family who undergoes unspeakable tragedy that divides them and causes deep emotional burdens. Led by the demanding yet caring father, played with incredible authenticity by Sterling K. Brown, the family follows the troubled teen Tyler (a brilliant Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a star athlete feeling tremendous pressure by his father and the world around him who struggles to maintain a complicated relationship with his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie, in a revelation of a performance).
Also explored is Tyler’s younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell in one of the most memorable performances from 2019) and their mother Catharine (Renee Elise Goldsberry in a dynamite performance), both of which break down in similar ways after their family struggles to come to terms with the changes instilled upon them.
As the tragedy unfolds, we follow these good-intended yet lost characters and continue to get our hearts further shattered as the film unfolds. Shults portrays an emotionally hard-hitting depiction of a modern family in staggering detail and soul, his goal of moving his audience resulting more successful than his biggest wishes. “Waves” is the kind of film that stays with you and truly takes something out of you, due to not only its remarkable performances by a hugely talented ensemble but for its troubling story of love and forgiveness.
While a knockout in delivering emotional layers and generating captivating images, “Waves” struggles to find a proper organization of its narrative. The film shifts protagonists between its halves, which while an interesting choice, separates us from the first protagonist and almost completely forgets about them. The film doesn’t have the proper ending, seemingly ending on an unfinished note that doesn’t really give us an idea of what our characters’ lives will be like once the credits start to roll.
Shults may not have delivered the best ending and caused some slight disappointment at how the film finishes, yet there’s no denying we’re witnessing the gifts of a talented filmmaker with a passion for telling human dramas and exploring the human condition.
“Waves” is a film that you don’t just watch and forget about. It stays with you and will give you much to think and talk about, something most films lack these days. You won’t find a film released in 2019 more powerful, nor an ensemble cast that will break your heart to the degree that this group of extraordinary actors does.