The Stream: Kids gone wild storyline is very “been there, done that”
The Big Screen: Kelvin Harrison, Jr. gives a dynamic and heartbreaking star performance.
The Final Bill: Two episodes of “Euphoria” are a better use of 2 hours than this.-Trip Fontaine
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writers: Trey Edward Shults
Stars: Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Sterling K. Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry | See full cast & crew
Genre: Drama, Romance, Sport
Runtime: 2 hour 15 minutes
In December, I had the pleasure of a private screening of Waves, the family drama directed by Trey Edward Shults; and by private screening, I mean no one else bought a ticket for the film. While being alone in the theater was a good experience and there were benefits to seeing this film on the big screen, I left feeling ambivalent about Waves overall. I decided to revisit it when I noticed it on Showtime this month. Here’s where I land today: still meh.
Waves is a kinetic drama about expectations colliding with reality, grief and mending family bonds. These big themes are packaged in an upper-middle class African-American family living in South Florida with a wrestling star son, played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., and a quiet daughter, played by Taylor Russell. The film focuses primarily on the lives of the teens reacting to the pressure from the parents to succeed. Shults uses a changing aspect ratio to highlight the changes in the family as film progresses. Music and color throughout are also used strategically to emphasize the themes of the film. There is a hint of an idea about exploring the pitfalls of Black Exceptionalism on the younger generation, but I feel like that ball is dropped for sensationalism instead.
With the story told through the eyes of these teens, I couldn’t shake a comparison to the HBO series “Euphoria”. In fact, the girlfriend of the son is played by Alexa Demie, who stars in that show in basically the same role. Shults’ directorial flourishes in Waves can also be found in “Euphoria.” Maybe these stories about teens in the 2010s and beyond will all be like this; but, Waves really feels like 2 episodes of that series edited into one feature length film.
I can say that the actors who play the core family – Sterling K. Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and Taylor Russell – are all very good and shine in their sections. Harrison particularly has a heavy load to carry and he does it well. There is a necessary emotional weight that these four actors have to bear that can either sink or may the film fly. Generally, I think they admirable do their best. The story just ultimately is not interesting enough for me.
Waves is one popped popcorn. How many of these kids gone wild movies can there be?
Watch “Euphoria” instead, really. Zendaya is fantastic on that show. Grab a big box of popcorn and borrow someone’s HBO Max password and watch “Euphoria” but it is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.