Let's just say that "Waves," from director Trey Edward Shults and A24 films, is so emotionally draining that actor Sterling K. Brown begged the audience at the D.C. premiere, "Don't leave!" You may be tempted to for the first full hour, as you get the sense that something, something is about to happen.
And that something does happen. And it's awful. But bear with me.
Shults's powerful film centers on an upper-middle-class African-American family in South Florida. Brown, who always brings 100 percent passion to his roles, plays Ronald, a loving but overbearing father who expects a bit too much from his son Tyler and his wrestling career. The pressure he places on Tyler to win appears to have something to do with the young man's dangerous spiral. Tyler goes to extreme measures to meet his father's athletic expectations. On top of that, he's having a relationship crisis and trying to win back his girlfriend.
Once you make it past that scene in the film I mentioned earlier, you can almost hear the audience breathe a sigh of relief. Part Two deals with some heavy subject matter too, but it's a lot more peaceful and a lot less tearing your hair out. Remember, it's called "Waves." I've never seen anything quite like it. It's almost as if you're getting two movies for the price of one.
What I liked most about the film is that it lets its younger stars shine. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is painfully convincing as Tyler and the film is his for the first hour. After the tragedy, the focus shifts to Ronald's daughter Emily, played by newcomer Taylor Russell. And she gracefully grabs the spotlight as she and new boyfriend Luke, played by Lucas Hedges, encourage one another to improve their familial relationships. Both Harrison and Russell are (rightfully) getting Oscar buzz.
More than anything, the cast and crew are hoping that "Waves" will encourage parents to open dialogues with their children to let them know that, despite all the goals they have for their kids, they can always make themselves vulnerable to their parents. In Tyler's case, it was too late. Ronald isn't going to make the same mistake with Emily. And a few of their conversations make for some of the most moving scenes.
With the brilliant two hours of acting comes engaging camera work and a soundtrack that the media is going nuts over. It is a uniquely shot and powerfully acted piece of art.
My only advice: Bring tissues, and maybe a few hours of therapy.
"Waves" is in theaters Friday, November 15.
We give it a: B+