Waves (2019) – Summary, Review (with Spoilers)

Community Rating: 55.33% (3)

With Waves, A24 continues to solidify that if it is the distributor, you will get more than a movie or show but an experience that will stay with you after the credits roll.

Directed ByTrey Edward Shults
Written ByTrey Edward Shults
Date Released (Theatrical – National Release)12/6/2019
Genre(s)Drama, Young Adult, Romance
Noted Cast
TylerKelvin Harrison Jr.
AlexisAlexa Demie
RonaldSterling K. Brown
CatharineRenée Elise Goldsberry
LukeLucas Hedges
EmilyTaylor Russell

Plot Summary/ Review

Waves is broken up into two parts, and when you think about the parts together, you understand why the movie is titled as it is. The first hour or so focuses on Tyler. He is a very competitive wrestler who overworks himself, but he likes the results. It has given him a cut body, cute girlfriend in Alexis, and while his relationship with his dad, Ronald, isn’t the greatest, they bond over exercise and meets.

However, the waves for him are huge and the kind which thrash and could drown a person. He gets hit with one situation after another to the point, like a cliff on a fragile rock, a bit of him snaps off. That sets up the second half featuring his younger sister Emily. Someone who is barely in the first half of the film so when she enters in, originally you think it is going to focus on the aftermath.

That’s not what happens. Emily’s story shifts and is dealing with much more calmer waves. Be it Luke entering her life, Ronald opening up to her, or her finding this strange peace. This isn’t to say she doesn’t have drama in her life, but for her, it is drama dealing with her stepmom, Catharine, dealing with Tyler’s actions and her dad confiding in her since, like so many adults, he has no friends.

Thus giving you what feels like two one hour episodes that truncated the two main arcs of a show into a movie.


You Come To Appreciate Tyler & Emily’s Stories As Separate Entities & Together

At first, you may find it weird how strikingly different the first hour and the second hour is and may feel like they are loosely connected due to Tyler and Emily being siblings and their parents’ involvement. However, as individual stories and separate entities, you learn to appreciate both.

With Tyler’s story, it makes you appreciate the drama, the excitement, the chaos of his life. Be it in the form of his relationship with Alexis, the dynamic between him and Ronald, or Tyler’s manic episode that leads to shocking results. Then with Emily, the calm she brings with a simple love story, it is like, in the perfect world, how action movies would be. That is, having this crazy car chase, gunfight, what have you, then pairing that with a cool down which isn’t boring, or just building to the next thing, but has equal value to the excitement. To the point you love seeing both together but recognize they are strong enough to exist separately.

It’s Diverse Depiction Of Young Love

Full disclosure: Alexis in Waves is very similar if not the same person as Maddy in Euphoria. Well, minus Alexis not dressing in as revealing clothes. But, outside of that one exception, Demie plays her just the same. She loves hard, can get very passionate, and likes to play games. The kind that makes it so while you may not support the level Tyler takes it to, you can understand why he gets riled up.

On the opposite end, you get this beautiful, tear-jerking relationship between Emily and Luke that will make it so, if you are single, you’re just going to think, “Why can’t I find something like that?” Because, just watching her let this boy in and support him through one of the most traumatic things in his life, it helps you understand why Russell is getting so much praise from this movie. For while she isn’t necessarily giving an awards worthy performance, after the year she has had in releases, this is pretty much the film that shows her range is ridiculous.

You’ll Find Yourself Sitting Through The Credits Hoping For More

As noted, this feels like a tv show, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t stay through the credits hoping we’d get a few more scenes. However, all you get is hearing Alexis say a few things and other random lines of dialog.

It Forces You To Appreciate Visuals & Sound – Even If You Aren’t Really Into The More Artsy/ Technical Side Of Film Making

For anyone who has been around for a while, you’ll know that our main focuses are character development, did the story bring up situations that made the production stand out, and ultimately, would it be worth paying for? As for cinematography, sound editing, and varying effects, if it is sci-fi or fantasy, they might be noted, but for anything else? Not really.

Waves, on the other hand, forces you to really take note of how the light hits the skin of the characters, the music chosen, and how different effects were used to enhance the moment. I mean, this is the epitome of an indie film done in such a way it can have mainstream appeal rather than seem it is for a niche market.

On The Fence

I Wanted More Out Of Catharine

Ronald, being that Emily and Tyler are his biological children, they have a complicated relationship with him. One that we see with Tyler in him being overbearing, challenging, and less of a lovable figure and someone who once may have been feared, but now Tyler is training to topple. Then with Emily, there is this vibe that Ronald was distant from her, and he recognizes it. He even apologizes for it, especially as things get hard with Catharine.

Someone who, honestly, doesn’t evolve past being someone’s wife or the stepmom. Which isn’t to say Goldsberry is robotic. She’ll get you in your emotions. It is just, she is far more limited in meaningful interactions than Brown, and that makes it so you may feel she isn’t utilized properly.


Met Expectations

It exceeded expectations. In splitting itself in two, you get all the young adult drama you could want in the first half, then the cute teen romance in the second, while also having that exploration of complicated relationships between parents and children, as well as between boyfriend and girlfriend.

Would Watch Again?

Absolutely. This is the kind of film you recommend to a friend and tell them not to start it until you are there. Partly because of how much you enjoy the film but also since you want to see every reaction they make.

See it in theaters, rent it, buy it, wait till HBO has it on its platform – whatever. All that needs to be done is you seeing Waves and experiencing the highs, lows, tears, and sometimes shock it will bring you.

Images and text in this post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we may earn a commission or products from the company.

You Come To Appreciate Tyler & Emily’s Stories As Separate Entities & Together - 90%
It’s Diverse Depiction Of Young Love - 85%
You’ll Find Yourself Sitting Through The Credits Hoping For More - 91%
It Forces You To Appreciate Visuals & Sound – Even If You Aren’t Really Into The More Artsy/ Technical Side Of Film Making - 86%
I Wanted More Out Of Catharine - 75%
Met Expectations - 92%
Would Watch Again? - 89%


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Amari Allah

I started Wherever I Look back in 2011 and have aimed to be that friend who loves watching various forms of media and talking about it. So, from bias, strong opinions, and a perspective you may not have thought about, you'll find that in our reviews.

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