I knew very little about writer/director Trey Edward Shults new film "Waves" before my viewing, but it is a film that I won't soon forget.
This portrait of a family completely surprised me, a film that bustles with so much intimacy and raw emotion.
"Waves" tells the story of a South Florida African-American family. The father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) pushes his son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to be a champion wrestler on his high school team. Tyler for the most part has lived up to the lofty goals, a teenager who seems to have everything - the support of his family, a steady girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie), and a possible future as a college athlete.
An injury starts a downward spiral, leading to a tragic event that shapes the family forever.
And this is where "Waves" really stands out among other films.
This event not only changes the family, it changes the narrative of the film - with "Waves" shifting to Tyler's younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell in a star making performance) and how she adjusts to life after the tragedy - and begins a relationship with a class mate Luke (Lucas Hedges) who has family problems of his own.
The shift in narrative may be jarring at first, but as Taylor's story starts to unfold it becomes apparent how much her relationship is important to moving on from her family's tragedy, but also how it shapes Luke's story as well.
This is where Shults screenplay really soars, exploring some painful repercussions from a moment that everyone involved wishes they could have prevented (or at least seen the signs of trouble leading up to the event).
If the first half of "Waves" is about tragedy, then the second half is about finding the hope in those awful moments with the cast really giving the material the intimacy it demands.
Brown is award worthy as the father who thinks he is doing the right thing, but soon realizes that his way has not always been the best way.
And then there is Russell who is absolutely mesmerizing as Emily. Her performance is so natural, so raw that it's easy to be invested in her journey. Russell is a big reason why "Waves" works because she makes the film's transition smooth.
You want to follow Emily, not through the end of this film, but beyond. It's a memorable character and memorable performance in one of 2019's hidden gems.