“Waves”: a bifurcated drama about a family tragedy and redemption; A24 keeps it up with edgy dramas

“Waves” is indeed an impassioned film and a bit of a trip into teen and family breakdown and some degree of recovery, filmed in “Paradise” (south Florida, along the Miami waterways).  Filmed by Trey Edward Shults, who looks white on his photos, it does provide, for me at least, a perspective on the political identarianism about race in the media.  The suburban African-American family appears well-off, but pressured, sometimes into bad behaviors, and really asks the question, when its it “personal responsibility”, and when is it “the system”.

The film is in two basic parts (film school teachers say a screenplay needs a beginning, middle and end, but this film takes us through two cycles of the process). It’s long, at 140 minutes, and the “intermission” seems to appear at about 100 minutes.  The film is shot on a normal 1.85:1 screen, and the aspect ratio is parsed as the plot develops (like Wes Andrerson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), sometimes compressed vertically, and then horizontally, and then gradually re-expanded as to suggest a process of recovery.

The central character in the first half is Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), a high school wrestler with bleached curly hair. His father pressures him to endure pain and win, as the world has no place for losers, most of all if black (rather like Trump’s attitude). When Tyler has a serious shoulder injury, he keeps wrestling through it.  The PE coach taunts the team into esprit de corps.  To deal with the pain, he starts taking opioids. The doctor wants him to have surgery now and stop.  In some scenes, the family cat (almost a real character herself) watches him, as if to check up on him, and the cat seems to realize that Tyler is falling apart before the human family members see it.

Tyler has gotten a girl friend pregnant, and he tries to get her to have an abortion. The scene at the clinic is quite harrowing with the protesters.  The girl friend does not want to do it. They start having fights.  In a particularly well-thought out scene, she blocks him on all social media just after she tells him she will.

Tyler has also been going to some wild disco parties, despite being under age (how does he get it?) He encounters the girl friend, and in an argument he strikes her, and causes her to bleed to death. Later Tyler will plead guilty to second degree murder and get a life sentence.  The judge says that the sentence has mercy because he becomes eligible for probation in 30 years.

Tyler has wrestled with Luke (Lucas Hedges) in an early scene, and may have been injured initially in the match.

In the second half of the film, Tyler’s sister wants to put her life back together.  Luke approaches her, in a scene where the camera keeps him barely out of sight until the aspect ratio starts to recover.  She agrees to hang out with him. They have lunch at a place that reminds me of Rosie’s in Fort Lauderdale or Wilton Manor. (I’ve eaten there with a Facebook friend—who reports that south Florida has been losing a lot of businesses recently).  They start a relationship.  Luke tells her he has a dad who abandoned his family but is now dying in a hospice in Kansas City of stomach cancer.  She talks him into a road trip and with her help he reconnects with this dad, whose symptoms (on camera vomiting of blood all the time) are horrific.  Oh yes, he may have created a baby.

Luke seems to be a stable person who raised himself and overcame a bad childhood on his own.  How was he able to do this?   For him, sports worked as therapy. Lucas Hedges, in his recent films, is starting to look more like the next candidate to play Superman.

After the film, a representative of the A24 distribution company handed out pencil surveys, and I filled out one.  It was quite specific as to subject matter interest.  A24 is known for edgy drama with unusual concepts, characters, situations and issues (like “The Lobster” – reminding me now of Jordan Peterson, or “American Honey”).

Question: would A24 underwrite a film like Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “Rendez-Vous with Rama” which describes life in an O’Neill Cylinder?

Picture: personal trip, 2017/11, Hollywood FL

Name:  “Waves”

Director, writer: Trey Edward Shults

Released: 2019

Format: 1.85:1 (variable)

When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, Merrifield VA, 2019/11/23 fair crowd

Length: 136

Rating: R

Companies: A24

Link: official

Stars: *****

(Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2019 at 1 PM EST)

 TagsA24, Lucas Hedges

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