I rented this film from Amazon Prime when it was on offer but it never felt like the right time. This seemed like the kind of film that needed my full attention and I’ve just not been in the right frame of mind lately. I’ve been so exhausted, which has meant I could only face watching lighter/sillier films. I really wanted to watch this film though. Thankfully, my time was running out. After getting ahead of my things to do this weekend, I sat down to watch it and was able to give it my full attention. After a couple of fairly mediocre films, it was going to be good to get back to something decent. I was craving a film that had a real story to tell. One that would fully explore its characters and their lives.
Set in South Florida, Waves follows the lives of a suburban family that is trying to navigate through family, love, and loss. It is a film told in two parts. The first following Tyler, a high-school wrestler, and the second telling his sister’s story. The two siblings have a complicated relationship and are both struggling to find their place in school. Tyler has a great deal of promise and potential. He has a great athletic career ahead of him, which will lead him to college. However, it becomes clear that Tyler is close to the edge. His father is pushing him to breaking point and he is hiding an injury that is threatening to disrupt everything. When his wrestling career comes to an abrupt end, Tyler doesn’t know where he fits in anymore. His life continues to spiral and the young man is left in a dark place.
The second half of the film follows Tyler’s younger sister Emily. She isn’t like Tyler and leads a quieter life. She is timid, studious, and doesn’t have a lot of friends. Her older brother hangs over her life and she finds it difficult to fit in. Until she meets Luke, a fellow student who asks her out. The pair fall into a sweet, awkward and lovely relationship but they must both confront their pasts when Luke’s father comes back into the picture. Will helping Luke through his personal trauma help to heal Emily’s own familial wounds? Or will they continue to move further apart until there is nothing more to be done?
There is a lot to enjoy about Waves. These days, we sort of expect all Black stories to focus on racism and social commentary. There is a hint of this here but Waves never claims to be anything other than a story about family. It focuses on the psychology of family relationships and the pressure you feel because of them. The film portrays and deals with a mixture of emotions and isn’t afraid to shy away from difficult topics. This is a story about the importance of healing and confronting your pain. It is sometimes laid on a little thick but there is genuine pain here to see here.
The two parts of the film are distinct and feel so very different. The first half is all neon and energy. It feels as though we’re building towards something big and you feel as though every move of the camera will reveal something awful. You’re sitting on the edge waiting for something awful to happen but you’re also indulging in these young lives. The camera stays with Tyler and his friends and puts you in the centre of their world. It is an intimate portrait that celebrates their youth and potential. You get swept up in those hazy days and raucous nights from your teenage years. However, you can’t escape the sense of impending doom that is wonderfully highlighted in the score.
When the story shifts its focus to Emily, everything gets that little bit softer, brighter, and warmer. We’re in more familiar teen movie territory. This is more like those music videos where teenagers are chilling out in cars and hanging their arms out of the window. It doesn’t feel as exciting or refreshing as the first half but it isn’t meant to. The first part of the film was supposed to be about raw emotional outbursts while the second was more about finding yourself. The tones and style of each part of the film perfectly match the character at its centre and the story the film is trying to tell.
Waves is an absolutely beautiful film that tells its story in a tender and measured way. It delves deep into the characters on-screen and it shows the powerful mix of emotions that are impacting their lives. It deals with complex issues but it does it carefully and effortlessly. Not an awful lot happens in terms of the plot but it takes you on a great journey. Its vibrant and stylish approach can’t hide the compassion and care with which this story is being told. It is sensuous and draws you in from the start. You’ll feel the sting of pain, anger, fear, shame and love that flows out of it. It will leave you feeling drained but with hope for the future.