This is my business card. I’m showing it to you today because this is the review that’s going to get my critic card revoked. You’re going to ask to see it, and you’re going to rip it up.
I considered seeing Waves at TIFF but couldn’t make it work and wasn’t that sad about it until the buzz started going around the festival that it was good. That it was this year’s Moonlight. Damn.
But no worries, these movies hit theatres eventually and I recently made my acquaintance with it. Waves, how do you do?
It’s about an overachieving suburban family – a mom, a dad, two kids – but particularly about golden boy Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr), a hard-working student athlete who excels socially and academically, at home and at school. He has a girlfriend, a part-time job working for his father, skill with the piano, power on the wrestling mat. He trains faithfully with his loving but domineering father, Ronald (Sterling K Brown). He is loving toward his little sister Emily (Taylor Russell) and mother Catharine (Renée Elise Goldsberry). But nobody makes a movie about a good life that stays good.
The truth is, Waves keeps me at arm’s length from the get-go, the camera spinning panoramically inside a car, my stomach lurching. The teenagers inside are idiotic, driving so distractedly I brace myself for the an accident that never comes. But try telling that to my nervous system. I watch the film on tenter hooks; never has a film so quickly and so fully established a sense of foreboding. I cannot relax. Tyler’s life looks perfect, but perfection has a habit of being fleeting. You’re sure that something is coming, something bad, but what? Slowly things start to cave in: riffs between he and his father, a fight with his girlfriend, an injury in the ring. Tyler internalizes it all, self-medicates, keeps to himself. Surely something’s about to give. And as awful as it is, it’s almost a relief when it does. I’ve never been kept on the edge of tachycardia at a non-horror film before. But as I allow my body to relax, my blood pressure to fall back into the safe zone, I wonder if I can possibly claim to have liked the film when it was so hard to watch. It was interesting though – well told, well acted. Beautiful, really, and thoughtful. And just as I rise to my feet to head home, the screen begins to tell another story. And I begin to lose my mind.
It feels like we should be done, but we’re not. We’re starting a second chapter, this one about Tyler’s little sister, Emily. Her family has ruptured, is wounded. She isolates herself and you start to dread her following in her brother’s footsteps when she is “saved” by meeting a boy, Luke (Lucas Hedges). Witnessing Luke lose his estranged father to cancer gives Emily a new perspective on family, but I had little tolerance for it. The first story felt whole and complete to me; now I felt duped. I resented this second story for keeping me in my seat after I had so triumphantly survived sustained angina. I could only survive this new onslaught by whispering to Sean about manatee poop (somewhat topical) and taking long, meandering pee breaks (chicka-cherry cola) after which I’d return reluctantly to the theatre 10 minutes later and Sean would lean over and fill me in: “They went fishing.” Oh the agony.
There’s the agony the film is causing me, and the agony I’m causing myself, beating myself up for praying for the end of a film I just can’t like despite its being universally, critically praised. It’s an embarrassing time for me, embarrassing to have preferred a Jumanji sequel to this Oscar bait. But I just can’t. I’m sorry guys, but I just can’t.