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Waves (15)

Cast: Alexa Demie, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K Brown
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Trey Edward Shults
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Release Date: 17/01/2020 (selected cinemas)
Running Time: 136mins
Country: US
Year: 2019

High school student Tyler Williams is the golden boy of the wrestling team but he is hiding an injury that could end his career. He secretly takes painkillers belonging to his father Ronald to dull the pain rather than undergo surgery as advised by his doctor. Away from the wrestling mat, Tyler nurtures his relationship with girlfriend Alexis. Events spiral out of control when Alexis reveals that she is pregnant and the teenagers debate whether they should have an abortion or raise the child.


LondonNet Film Review
Waves (15)

Light. Shock. Heat. Ocean. Sound. A multitude of waves crest and crash with devastating consequences in writer-director Trey Edward Shults’s semi-autobiographical third feature. Opening with the soothing image of a 16-year-old girl riding her bicycle, the wind caressing her hair as shafts of sunlight pierce a tree canopy, Waves exposes the fractures in a South Florida family with urgency and startling precision. Working closely with cinematographer Drew Daniels, Shults conjures a chaotic collage of vibrant images set to a hip soundtrack populated by Animal Collective, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Radiohead and Kanye West. If it’s possible for a film to swagger then Waves does just that in a bruising, nihilistic opening hour that can barely contain the youthful energy of the cast with nervous handheld camerawork that spins a dizzying 360 degrees in confined spaces…

All of that pent-up energy explodes at an alcohol-soaked house party, delivering a tear-stained crescendo which neatly bookmarks the film’s second act: a contemplative quest for healing that invites the audience to draw breath and recover alongside the gut-punched characters. This forlorn search for closure, which introduces Lucas Hedges in a pivotal role, dials down the directorial brio a couple of notches and loses some of the relentless narrative drive and focus amid the tears and recriminations.

Eighteen-year-old high school student Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is a star athlete on the wrestling team thanks to relentless training and sparring with his domineering father, Ronald (Sterling K Brown). “We are not afforded the luxury of being average,” the patriarch sternly reminds his boy. “Gotta be 10 times better just to get anywhere.” Those dreams of excellence are threatened by a level five SLAP tear to Tyler’s shoulder, which requires surgery to avoid permanent, irreversible damage.

Instead, the teenager defies his doctor’s grim prognosis and secretly pops his father’s prescription painkillers to push through the discomfort and maintain his golden boy status in the eyes of stepmother Catherine (Renee Elise Goldberry). Away from the wrestling mat, Tyler nurtures his relationship with girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) and keeps an eye out for his sister Emily (Taylor Russell). Events spiral sickeningly out of control when Alexis learns she is pregnant and the young couple run a gauntlet of angry protesters outside an abortion clinic.

Waves is anchored by a mesmerising performance from Harrison Jr, who is nominated for the Rising Star Award at the 2020 Baftas. He burns white hot with raw emotion and the reduced visibility of his tormented teenager in the second half is acutely felt. By clearly dividing his picture, Shults over-extends by 15 minutes but the calm after the storm is a moving counterpoint to the colour-soaked primal scream of the opening hour. As Tyler’s father would probably agree, it’s better to push too hard than fall far short.

– Jo Planter


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