Film FestivalsMovie ReviewsTIFF 2019: Waves Review

Keith NoakesSeptember 20, 201979/100
Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown
Trey Edward Shults
Trey Edward Shults
14A (Canada), R (United States)
Running Time
135 minutes
Release Date
November 1st, 2019
Overall Score
Rating Summary
Waves was an intense drama whose parts are better than their sum with great cinematography and an equally great soundtrack but also an inconsistent story despite solid performances.

This will be one of many reviews during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, to keep up with our latest coverage, click here.

Perhaps no other film has made a bigger splash this fall since the dropping of the first trailer of Trey Edward Shults’ Waves, immediately moving at or near the top of audiences’ most anticipated films of 2019 lists thereafter. It’s easy to see why this would be the case considering it has plenty going for it from having Shults as writer and director, A24 as a distributor, and also vibes of Moonlight. While the pieces are definitely there, their finished product isn’t nearly as compelling as it could have which will surely be a minority opinion. The film is certainly not lacking in style (arguably the best part about it) with flashy cinematography and a cool soundtrack, however, that style occasionally overwhelmed its substance while not quite finding the right balance between the two despite some powerful moments.

Waves follows the many trials and tribulations faced by the Williams, a modern, middle-class African-American family living in a South Florida town. The film takes a decent look at the overall African-American experience on a generational level from the perspective of its two youngest members, Tyler (Harrison Jr.) and his younger sister Emily (Russell). Their parents, the tough love Ronald (Brown) and the peace-making Catharine (Renée Elise Goldsberry), want to prepare them for the world. Where the film faltered was when it diverted into chaos. While it arguably subverts our expectations story-wise in a shocking way with a real sense of intensity, it ratchets up far too quickly and lessens all the character development up to that point. This all leads to a drastic tonal shift that implies to wanting to be something more, however, the story becomes something that was nowhere near as interesting as what came before it and both parts could never quite reconcile with one another.

Despite the inconsistent story, Waves still boasts some good performances across the board. While Tyler may be a difficult character to get behind, Harrison Jr. admittedly delivers a powerful performance that is unfortunately cut too short. Meanwhile, it could be argued that the Russell’s Emily is the real star of the film. She definitely did the best she could with what she was given though it was a shame that the story couldn’t have more of a clear direction. What somewhat made up for it was the chemistry between the family with Brown and Goldsberry’s solid performances as Ronald and Catharine respectively, with the former being award-worthy, holding it all together.

In the end, Waves was a solid drama that should stay with audiences long after the credits roll. Its ambitious story might not all work but its undeniable sense of style and performances make it well worth the watch.

*still courtesy of A24*

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