My first controversial review?
So, Waves is a 2019 teenage drama directed by Trey Edward Shultz, who also brought us It Comes at Night (2017). When that film came out, I was incredibly excited to see what A24 would put out next within the realm of horror. After viewing it, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed in it. Atmospherically, it was top notch cinema, but it left me yearning for more than what it gave. It purposefully felt like it limited itself in an attempt to stray farther from the mainstream, but it went a little to far in my opinion.
When advertising for Waves started to air, I was intrigued once again. I liked what I saw in cinematography and style, so I hoped this film would satisfy me a bit more than It Comes at Night.
For the most part, it did, but I still have my issues with this one as well.
Let’s start with what I enjoyed first. The performances are terrific all around. The film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russel, Sterling K. Brown, and Lucas Hedges, who all turn in great performances in their own right. The film focuses on Harrison’s Tyler, a high school wrestler dealing with our favorite teen issues: partying, drug addiction, parental pressure, and teen pregnancy. Tyler’s story is flavored by a high energy, hard hitting soundtrack seasoned with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator, and Kanye West. We follow Tyler’s misadventures in suburban Florida until we abruptly shift focus to his sister Emily, played by Taylor Russel. Taylor’s story is much more mellow than her brother’s, highlighted by slower and less in-your-face songs as we watch her experience a new relationship. Additionally, the cinematography and staging is wonderful to watch. The camera movements are dynamic and the color pallet can be quite appealing at times. However, the visuals of the movie are a bit of a double edged sword for me. More on that later.
Music is a huge part of this film. Shultz himself even categorized this film as a musical of sorts. The characters don’t sing, but the music does coincide with the emotions the characters are feeling. Here is my first main problem with the film. In a musical, a character will tell you how they feel through song. Say what you will about this method of storytelling, but actual effort is put in place with the songwriting to make it work. In Waves, preexisting, popular songs are added to soundtrack what a character is feeling at a given moment. The emphasis in the scenes then shift to what the song is telling you to feel rather than what the actors are telling you to feel. Shultz has a tremendous cast at his disposal, but at times it feels they take a back seat to the soundtrack, letting it guide the film’s emotions rather than the characters. Don’t get me wrong, I love the soundtrack, and it’s not as bad as, say, how Suicide Squad handled their popular soundtrack. I just felt as if the film relied on it a bit too much to tell the story.
I praised the cinematography earlier, but as I got deeper into the film, I found myself getting bored and a bit annoyed with the technical choices. Color is a huge part of this movie, but at times it felt like Shultz was putting too much effort into showing off the pretty colors rather than sticking to the story. The film feels stuck between a rather traditionally presented film and an arthouse flick, as the visuals attempt to overshadow the heart of the story at times. At 130 minutes, the film is pretty damn long, and it sure feels that way once you get into the second half. I actually enjoy the second half more than the first, as the story slows down and focuses more on human interactions and emotions. The first half is so adrenaline rushing and intense that you honestly feel shellshocked once it makes the transition. I understand that for the second half to work you need the first half, but the shift in energy is so jarring that I felt drained by the time the second half rolled around.
Underneath the neon aesthetic and the teenage soundtrack is a story trying to juggle too many ideas and themes. From a father pushing his son to a breaking point to a sister trying to find happiness under the shadow of a huge crime, nothing truly seems to feel resolved by the end of the film. These fragments are promising at first glance, but end up feeling straight up abandoned in order to move on to the next idea. I feel a terrific movie could have been made by focusing on one of the two main stories in this film, but Shultz’s insistence to combine the two is what inevitably leads to its downfall in my eyes. There’s just too much going on for this to feel whole and complete to me, and from the people i’ve spoken to about this, I seem to be in the minority here.
I don’t hate Waves, nor do I think it’s a bad movie. I think it tries to do too much and hinges too much of its identity on its aesthetic rather than the meat and bones of the film. Perhaps Trey Edward Shultz’s style won’t be my cup of tea, but i’m still excited to see what he puts out in the future. Until then, I feel like driving through the city at night while bumping “I Am a God” by Kanye West just to feel something, anything.
Now hurry up with my damn croissants!
It’s notta Pina Colada! The Painkiller is a creamy, tropical cocktail popularized in the British Virgin Isles in the 1970s. It was trademarked by the Pusser’s rum brand in the 1980s, so to avoid their digital lawyers jumping through my laptop and suing my ass, I’m gonna make it with Pusser Royal Navy rum. You of course don’t need to do that (but if lawyers come asking, you didn’t hear it from me!) as you can essentially use any dark rum you want.
This drink’s flavor captures the aesthetic of Waves‘ beachy Florida setting, and plays a bit into Tyler’s dilemma. You see, the Painkiller was given it’s name as a way to alleviate any pain a sailor might have when they wash up to the tropical Soggy Dollar Bar. I don’t necessarily think this would work in Tyler’s case, but if the pain you’re experiencing is “Need a Great Tropical Drink”-itis, then Doctor Brandon has just the prescription for you!
- 2 shots of Pusser’s rum (or any dark rum)
- 4 shots of pineapple juice
- 1 shot of orange juice
- 1 shot cream of coconut
- Grated nutmeg
- 1 pineapple wedge
- Add rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and cream of coconut to a shaker with ice and shake well.
- Strain into a hurricane (or any tall) glass.
- Garnish with a dash of grated nutmeg and a pineapple wedge.