Waves ★★★★½

Nothing can prepare you for the emotional gut punch that is Trey Edward Shults’ Waves. This rich, complex and ultimately tragic family drama is particularly deft in the depiction of just how fragile family units can be, even when they are anchored by love and support. The depth of emotion often leads to erratic behavior, especially when it’s tied to the inability to cope with pressure. And that’s what Shults does so well, showing how parents can push their children so hard to succeed, but never prepare them for failure, which is— as every person at some point learns— an inevitability. Waves is coated with anxiety from the very first frame. Despite an upbeat, tremendously creative montage, there’s a sense that the idyllic Floridian landscape will eventually be tainted with these characters’ pain. It’s, in a literal sense, very much a wave of a film. First, it recoils and builds, then it hits you with thunderous violence, leaving behind emotional devastation and extreme confusion. Then, it’s quiet, and it’s time to pick up the pieces, rise up, lick wounds, transform, evolve... There’s incredible empathy for the people at the center of the tragedy, no matter on what side of the fence they are. Or, as Shults seems to prefer, the absence of fences. Waves is an advocate for kindness, the choice of love over hate, and acceptance of character flaws, a myriad of sentiments that aren’t a stranger to Douglas Sirk’s cinema. As seen in Written in the Wind or All that Heaven Allows, Waves is bursting with color, commentary on social strata and race, and seems particularly interested in dissecting the depth of pain through the lens of tragedy. In other words, Shults made a melodrama, and Sirk would be proud.

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