Waves (2019)

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Food: To do something different, instead of recommending a restaurant or recipe like usual – I am actually going to recommend a documentary about food. This is really well researched and compelling endorsement for the plant based diet than I have yet to see. It is on Netflix and it is called “Game Changers.

Film: “Waves” (2019) packs a punch in a such a visceral way that I had to remember whether or not I was watching a Safdie brothers movie. No, it’s Trey Edward Shultz, a director who has been on the rise since his 2015 praised film “Krishna.”  “Waves” is about an African-American family living in the beautiful warm landscape of South Florida, as tragedy strikes and they must learn to understand love, forgiveness and loss.

The film is broken into two parts, and though they are both individually masterful, they fail to come together efficiently. Placing the crux of the film in the center, “Waves” mimics its namesake by generating a strong build up that comes crashing into shore with a momentum that will leave viewers feeling captivated entirely – pained, anguished, mesmerized and shocked – but then slowly falls away quietly, letting the pieces of sand settle where they may.

Initially focusing on Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who is a young athlete, and his intense, but loving relationship with his father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), who pushes him physically and mentally. They share a home with Tyler’s sister, Emily (Taylor Russell), and their mother (Renée Elise Goldsberry). The four of them are close-knit, giggling together at a diner when Tyler and Ronald engage in an impromptu arm wrestle.

Tyler splashes around in the ocean with his girlfriend Alexis (the superb Alexa Demie). The intuitive nature of this film feels personal right off the bat, and so, when things begin to unravel, it is first felt not seen. The tension surrounding this character starts to build tremendously, and like a dam, water begins to flood rapidly through every emerging crack. To continue with the visual arcs relating to water, the climax of this portion of the film is like drowning. The audience is so emerged and connected through the visuals and sounds that it is impossible to not feel completely gripped by the series of events that take place here. It is overwhelming, frightening, and paralyzing.

The next portion of the film is focused solely on Emily. Quiet and sincere, Taylor Russell plays this character with a complicated sweetness that elevates the role in every single scene. She meets Luke (Lucas Hedges of “Lady Bird” and “Honey Boy”) who takes her on a journey of love, forgiveness and redemption which allows her to externalize some of her feelings towards her family and find peace. It is difficult to confirm that the second half is a truly satisfying conclusion to the first, but “Waves” succeeds at delivering a haunting look at how life continues to move forward despite trauma, and how one must learn to move with it.

With magical cinematography, all-encompassing sounds and music, and incredible break out performances from the two leads, “Waves” will not leave your mind. It is beautiful and lyrical, and unlike many films, secured the rights to use the spellbinding songs of Frank Ocean throughout, leaving us all excited to see what Shultz will come out with next.

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