Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Waves (2019 film)


Written, directed, and co-edited by Trey Edward Shults, Waves is the story of an African-American family living in South Florida as their patriarch tries to ensure success for his son only for things to fall apart. The film is an exploration of a family who are trying to live their lives yet the demands of living a better life eventually takes the toll on the family. Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexie Demie, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Sterling K. Brown. Waves is an intoxicating and evocative film from Trey Edward Shults.

Set in Fort Lauderdale and areas in South Florida, the film follows the life of an African-American family as their patriarch pushes for 18-year old son to succeed with great pressure only for everything to suddenly crack and lead to tragedy and a troubling aftermath. It’s a film that explores a family who seems to have it all but the pressures to maintain that success begins to take its toll on a young man who has a thriving amateur wrestling career, a girlfriend, and everything that a high school senior wants. Trey Edward Shults’ screenplay follows this life of a family with the son Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at the center of the story in its first half as he is someone with a lot of promise but his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) is pushing him to do better in the hopes that he wouldn’t have to struggle the way Ronald did. Yet, the physical and mental pressure begins to take its toll as does his relationship with his girlfriend Alexis (Alexie Demie) who reveals that she might be pregnant.

Tyler doesn’t tell his father nor his stepmother Catherine (Renee Elise Goldsberry) about the news as well as a warning from a doctor about his shoulder as it would all crash down for the film’s first half. The second half focuses on the aftermath of these events as well as Tyler’s younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) in how she copes with the events as well as her own growing loneliness leading to a romance with one of Tyler’s wrestling teammates in Luke (Lucas Hedges). Emily’s role in the narrative is someone who didn’t just saw the events that lead to tragedy but also watch her family just go through the motions as she was also crucial in the film’s first half as she saw Tyler breaking down and ready to explode amidst the pressures of everything he’s going through.

Shults’ direction is definitely stylish in not just the compositions he creates throughout the film but also in using different aspect ratios as it is shot largely on location in Fort Lauderdale and nearby areas in South Florida as well as additional locations in Columbia, Missouri for a key sequence in the third act. Shults would also use these long tracking shots as well as 360 degree shots of an entire location or in a car to play into the world that the Williams family is in with the tracking shots getting a view of where a character is at some place. Most notably a scene where Tyler walks into a big party to find Alexis as it would play into this key event that would shake everything. Shults’ usage of the Steadicam for the tracking shots does also include moments of style in these long tracking shots where the camera pan towards another character as if something is to happen. Even as there’s a lot of stylish slow-motion shots that add to this poetic tone in the visuals with a lot of the wide and medium shots including some intense dramatic moments with the latter such as a conversation between Tyler and Ronald with the latter emphasizing on what he is trying to do as a father and the hope that the former doesn’t make any big mistakes.

The different aspect ratios that Shults presents add to the visual tone of the film as the first half is shot in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio but following a key event that would shake up everything. The film changes into a 1:33:1 aspect ratio as it plays into a world where everything becomes tighter as the usage of close-ups and medium shots become more evident. When the film begins to focus on Emily, it does play into different aspect ratios in the wide screen format ranging from 2:35:1 and beyond where it adds to not just Emily’s own identity beginning to flourish but also watching her family’s image crumbling as she tries to ponder whether it was inevitable or she could’ve done something to prevent what had happened. Even as she accompanies Luke for his own journey as it also play into the idea of loss and regret not just for Luke but also for the Williams family. Overall, Shults crafts a rapturous yet harrowing film about the life of an African-American family living in South Florida.

Cinematographer Drew Daniels does incredible work with the film’s colorful cinematography to capture the vibrancy of the neon lights for the scenes at night including in some of the party scenes as well as maintain something natural for many of the interior/exterior scenes set in the day. Editors Trey Edward Shults and Isaac Hagy do excellent work with the editing with the usage of jump-cuts in some shots as well as some slow-motion cuts while keeping much of the editing straightforward. Production designer Elliott Hostetter, with set decorator Adam Willis and art director Margaux Rust, does brilliant work with the interior of the Williams home as well as a few other houses as well as some of the interiors at the school where Tyler and Emily attend. Costume designer Rachel Dainer-Best does fantastic work with some of the clothes as it is largely casual to play into the youthful world of the teens along with a more refined look of the adults.

Special effects supervisor Craig Barnett and visual effects supervisor Lucien Harriot do nice work with some of the visuals that include these dream-like images that play as transitional scenes as it is mainly set-dressing. Sound designers Max Behrens, Johnnie Burn, Simon Carroll, Brendan Feeney, Jack Patterson, Jack Sedgwick, and Ned Sisson do amazing work with the sound as it helps maintain an atmosphere in the locations as well as how some of the smaller moments sound including the music and parts of nature as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is phenomenal for its somber and ambient-based music that help play into the drama and some of the dream-like moment in the film as it is a major highlight of the film. Music supervisor Meghan Currier does superb work with the soundtrack as it feature an array of music ranging from classic jazz, hip-hop, EDM, and indie from artists/acts like Dinah Washington, Kendrick Lamar, Animal Collective, Tame Impala, Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator, Fuck Buttons, Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Alabama Shakes, Radiohead, SZA, Chance the Rapper, Colin Stetson, and THEY as it play into the culture that the kids are soaking themselves in.

The casting by Avy Kaufman is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Bill Wise as Tyler’s wrestling coach, Krisha Fairchild as the English teacher, filmmaker Harmony Korine as another teacher, David Garelik as a friend of Tyler, Neal Huff as Luke’s estranged father, Vivi Peneda as Alexis’ daughter, and Clifton Collins Jr. in a small role as Alexis’ daughter whom Tyler briefly converses with. Alexie Demie is fantastic as Tyler’s girlfriend Alexis as someone who cares about him but also raises concern about her own pregnancy as she copes with having to make some difficult decisions of her own that only causes more trouble for Tyler. Lucas Hedges is excellent as Luke as a teammate of Tyler who befriends Emily in its third act as he reaches out to her while also being gentle and kind to her during a tumultuous time for her. Renee Elise Goldsberry is brilliant as Tyler and Emily’s stepmother Catherine as a woman that is concerned about Tyler’s mental state but also the chaos that would later follow as she deals with its troubling aftermath.

Sterling K. Brown is amazing as Tyler and Emily’s father Ronald as a man who is trying to ensure that Tyler succeeds in the hopes that he doesn’t have to suffer the way he did when he was young as someone who means well but ends up pushing his son too hard as he deals with his own faults. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is incredible as Tyler as an 18-year old high school senior who has it all yet copes with the pressure of needing to succeed only to deal with problems of his own due to his own faults and decisions where he ends up going into his own downward spiral. Finally, there’s Taylor Russell in a phenomenal performance as Emily Williams as Tyler’s younger sister who spends much of the film’s first half observing her brother and his downward spiral only to later deal with the events that shook up her own family as well as coming into her own identity as it’s a somber yet evocative performance from Russell.

Waves is a tremendous film from Trey Edward Shults that features an incredible ensemble cast led by Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, and Sterling K. Brown. Along with its supporting cast, ravishing visuals, wondrous approach to storytelling, an intoxicating score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and a hypnotic music soundtrack. The film is definitely a visceral and engrossing film about a family trying to maintain a degree of success only to succumb to pressure and bad decisions that would bring ruin but also revelations about themselves. In the end, Waves is a magnificent film from Trey Edward Shults.

Related: (null 11)

Trey Edward Shults Films: Krisha (2015 film) - (It Comes at Night)

© thevoid99 2021


Jay said...

I saw this one in theatres a long time ago now and I remember being so excited to check it out but then I didn't like it much. I wanted to like it but felt really alienated by it.

keith71_98 said...

I remember REALLY liking the first half but wasn't nearly as engaged with the second. Some strong performances.

Ruth said...

Boy I saw this ages ago at a film festival but haven't gotten around to reviewing it. I like this one more than Trey Edward Shults's Krisha, and the performances are terrific though the film overall is a bit uneven. Still well worth a watch though, Sterling K. Brow is such an underrated actor.

thevoid99 said...

@Jay-Sorry you didn't like it. I never like to go into any film with high expectations as I prefer no expectations.

@keith71_98-The second half is a different beast but I was still enthralled by it.

@Ruth-Sterling K. Brown is amazing despite the fact that This is Us is a shit show created by a hack writer who can't take constructive criticism.