Those who have seen the third film of American versatile filmmaker Trey Edward Shults are of the opinion that Waves can be added to that list. The plot of this film is divided into two parts and is set in the south of Florida. In the first part, we follow Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr., about whom I wrote a few days ago in the movie Luce), a high school student who endures physical pain and mental stress in an attempt to live life according to the plan of his father Roland (Sterling K. Brown). The other is reserved for his younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell), who enters into her first serious romantic relationship as an escape from her disintegrating family. The link between these two stories is an unexpected tragedy that destroys all those who have something to do with it.
I still choose Roland as the main character, a domineering, but above all kind-hearted man who wants the best for his children, but who does not realize that his good intentions have become a great burden to them, especially Tyler. Tyler is older, has greater athletic potential, and his involvement in wrestling opens the door to numerous college scholarships. Emily was a different victim of Roland’s fathering style, who devoted himself to Tyler’s wrestling training, so she was practically neglected. We only become aware of Roland’s influence on her when she herself becomes the focus of the story.
This family dynamic presents us with a lot of things very nicely, starting with the pressure on the child because he is the first/only hope of his parents, through the moments when those same parents transfer their unfulfilled dreams to the child, all the way to situations when the child is so much in the shadow of his brother or sisters to feel neglected as if they almost don’t exist. Emily’s story is built practically from the beginning of the film, although the script focuses on Tyler – she is there, but always somehow in the background and we learn almost nothing about her.
On the other hand, Ronald’s fatherhood from Tyler’s perspective doesn’t look very positive, especially since the exercise causes him pain, and his words of support and advice sound more like warnings. Ronald even notices that he’s missing painkillers, but he doesn’t pay attention because he probably doesn’t even want to know the answer. Tyler uses drugs and alcohol to ease the pain, and his situation is further complicated by his girlfriend, Alexis. After the turning point, there is also the author’s broader perspective, when we see brief but essential insights into several other characters, as if the author has the idea to show us how the actions or attitudes of two people can easily spread far beyond their relationship.
The author uses numerous techniques and tricks to show us how our characters feel. I was fascinated by how he narrows the aspect ratio when it seems to Tyler that the world is collapsing around him or how he rotates the camera when he feels like the whole world is his. The transfer of focus also subtly adjusts the entire tone of the film – from pain and sadness we get a pleasant progression towards forgiveness and love. My objections to this film can be reduced to the fact that the story is too often disturbed by the aforementioned visual tricks, so my enthusiasm moved as the title of the film says – in waves.