Waves is the most vivid, most alive movie of 2019. Every one of its technical merits lights up the screen in an exquisite vigor bursting with life, and its moving cast of ensemble performances aims straight for the soul.
Following up his other phenomenal (and thematically similar) performance this year in Luce, Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars as Tyler Williams, a black high school senior who has it all—a loving girlfriend and social life, a flourishing wrestling rep, and an overbearing father (Sterling K. Brown). After a series of life-changing events hit him all at once, Tyler begins to crumble under the pressure, and his hurting family along with him.
They’ll probably end up getting overlooked by the Academy, but Harrison’s got two great performances lined up for awards gold in my book. Tyler’s gradual progression onto a path of self-destruction is heartbreaking as Harrison captures every peak and valley in the high schooler’s life with unfiltered joys and anguish. He completely carries the first half of the film with Sterling K. Brown and Renée Elise Goldsberry squeezing two other powerful performances as his parents, and when the story is handed over to Taylor Russell in a poignantly daring narrative shift, she matches, if not outdoes everyone else with a somber, emotionally charged lead role as Tyler’s situationally shattered sister. Give this girl some gold!
Meanwhile, Trey Edward Schults’ directing of his original screenplay ravishes the senses alongside Drew Daniels’ mesmerizingly colorful and kinetic cinematography. Whether it’s subtle or elegantly dynamic, the camera’s always moving in an illustrative way that parades you across every scene as an amazing score, soundtrack, and sound editing tickle your ears in beauteous harmony. Additionally, Shults and Isaac Hagy’s editing job transitions from scene to scene with flawless, always creative style, and their visual cuts, transitions, and aspect ratio-bending effects solidify everything already happening onscreen with brilliant thematic cohesion.
Its grueling narrative about teenagers making poor decisions and stretched runtime wore on me a little bit, but with its unflinching performances and shining direction, Waves is without a doubt worth it as the prettiest, most experiential film of 2019.
A reFRESHing new wave