By Nick Boyd.
“Waves,” a powerful and haunting dark coming-of-age drama taking place in Florida, centers its first half on a very competitive high school wrestler named Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), with a “win at all costs” dad named Ronald (Sterling K. Brown). Tyler has a vibrant social life, with his many friends, attractive girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie), and social functions he attends.
He also is continually doing whatever he can to keep his body in shape for wrestling and to keep up with his dad’s growing demands to succeed, even if that means popping opioids to deal with an injury. Outward appearance in all aspects means everything to him. When Tyler finds himself suddenly dealing with some serious challenges related to his wrestling and his girlfriend, he begins to unravel.
Harrison Jr. shows insight in depicting a teenager under immense pressure, while Brown does strong work as well, displaying a full range of believable emotions, going from tough and demanding in the first half, to more tender, loving, and vulnerable in the second half. One quibble about the picture that I had was I found the editing of the first half to be too hyper stylized
Then at about the halfway point, the film shifts focus to the viewpoint of Tyler’s sister Emily, phenomenally played by Taylor Russell.
Not only does the perspective of things change, but so does the tone of the movie, going from ominous and high-intensity, to introspective and poignant, almost like a different movie altogether. Compared to her older brother, Emily is reserved and pensive.
One day while Emily is at school, she meets Tyler’s shy teammate Luke (Lucas Hedges). Their relationship, which over time develops into romance, is believable and affecting. They do fun things, share intimacies, and seem to genuinely enjoy spending time together. Both Russell and Hedges perfectly capture the initial awkwardness and then excitement of young love, creating a couple that we care about.
This is a film where romance, family relations, and heartache are all delved into insightfully, as the emotional experiences go from the raw to the tender. The director, who was not quite 30 when the movie was being made, has an acute understanding of what teenagers deal with and this comes through even in small details, such as through Instagram posts and text messages that are visually displayed on the screen.
He also effectively uses the setting of the film, Florida, with its abundance of sunshine, beaches, and nature settings, to capture a carefree way of life.
“Waves” is a journey not easily forgotten.
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