As one of the latest films to come out of the very young and already flourishing A24 entertainment company, Waves tells the story of a south Florida suburban family and their intense, emotional journey they find themselves on. Along the way, the perils of drugs, neglect, domestic strife, perfectionism, jealousy, and loss all make their moves against this family who knows personally what it means to succeed and work hard as a Black family in modern America.
Watch It: If you enjoy films that experiment with an unconventional story structure, a pulsating soundtrack that is front and center, aesthetic cinematography, and Booksmart but from an intense, poignant, and Black perspective.
Skip It: If you want a story that has a through line of clarity, is structured more conventionally, and has elements of comedy.
After knowing that Waves had received early buzz from festivals and famous review sites, this was one I knew I’d need to check out. And in the first two acts of the film, it does not disappoint. Having a slight bias towards films where the score or soundtrack is heavily emphasized, Waves was a pleasant surprise in that department. The film follows two high-school aged siblings, and with the pounding soundtrack throughout, in this way it’s reminiscent of this year’s earlier high school comedic entry, Booksmart.
Along with the music, both the performances and cinematography are excellent. Specifically, Kelvin Harrison as Tyler, a high school senior, Taylor Russell as Emily, Tyler’s younger sister, and Sterling K. Brown as Ronald Williams, Tyler and Emily’s father give all-out performances filled with grit, emotion, and passion. There are also great angles and beautiful images cinematically of southern Florida to add an aesthetic enjoyment to the viewing.
Unfortunately, Waves subsides when it passes its crest at the end of the second act. This is, in fact, putting it lightly. Due to a flawed story, the film essentially contains two narratives. When the second act ends, a new story begins in the third act. In this sense, Waves fits the rare case where playing it structurally safe would’ve served the film better. As a result, and though filled with great performances, I felt completely distanced from the remaining 40 to 45 minutes.
Were the makers aware of such a well-executed film? Of course, as it was undoubtedly their intention. Yet Waves, nonetheless won’t win over everyone, as it didn’t quite win me over. I would recommend the film, but mostly due to intrigue and curiosity as to how a viewer would receive it. Waves doesn’t quite make the splash I was hoping for, but as something acceptable still worth checking out.
Zimm Score: 6.2/10