TIFF 2019 Film Review: “Waves” (2019) ★★★★★

Life is like ocean waves. One day it breaks our lives by taking what we love the most, leaves what we built up in pieces, but the next day it is calm and minds its own business. When something terrible happens, waves are high upon us like a tsunami, discounting nothing in its way by wiping everything out everything leaving nothing but emptiness. Then we are once again forced to come together to recollect what happened, where we were left off, and begin rebuilding what will never be the same again.

“Waves”, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, is a powerful drama that explores the lives of two couples who, in their own way, try to cope with what life has to offer them. It all starts with Tyler, a promising athlete, smart young man who has a loving family including sister Emily and girlfriend Alexis he loves way too much. But when his relationship with her is shattered, he begins losing control over himself and becomes angrier and angrier and angrier. And when the life-changing moment arrives, the most devastating tragedy happens, leaving everyone emotionally empty not knowing how else to move on from that tragic night…

Not giving much away, “Waves” is one of the most interesting and bold films that offers a character study or the study of a turbulent life that at some point is never meant to get any better. For instance, when we meet Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), he is a fine man in his teens. He has many friends and is good at wrestling. His father (Sterling K. Brown) seems to not neglect his son’s presence and helps him with practice at home. Emily (Taylor Russell), Tyler’s sister, watches her elder brother with pride. But at some point, that pride will fade away. Alexis (Alexa Demie), Tyler’s girlfriend, has a piece of news for Tyler he could barely process. But when he becomes emotionally unstable, he begins making mistakes that will cause headaches to many and that’s the least I can say.

Luke (Lucas Hedges) is Emily’s boyfriend who has his own problems at home. His father is dying of cancer but that’s something he would care less about. But with the appearance of Emily in his life, everything changes and the storm that always seems to stick around gives way to a space that’s clear as a blue sky meant to heal the wounds – wounds with scars, no matter what, no one can erase from their memories. Overall, the entire film is a roller-coaster of emotions that will come not only from the audience but from the silver screen as well, whether you want it or not, as you never feel indifferent towards the characters.

In the end, Trey Edward Shults manages to paint an American tragedy of the privileged life which, in reality, is more ubiquitous than we can imagine. What happens in “Waves” is real and occurs, sadly, with most families but we just don’t hear those stories too often. But when we do, one question comes to our mind – “why?” The film also captures the moment of parents’ responsibility, what they do every day with their children and how many hours they are present in their kids’ lives. But that does not mean we should sit and blame everyone left and right because once something horrible happens, whether with us or with someone else, we should use this as an opportunity to revisit our daily goals and see what we can change to avoid the tsunami of life that is never kind.

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