Make time for one of the most powerful performances you will see this year, and witness the energy that actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. has been bringing to the big screen for quite some time now.
A24 Films, the production company most notable for churning out hits like Lady Bird, Moonlight, Eighth Grade, and Hereditary, brings us the film Waves — starring Sterling K. Brown, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, and Taylor Russell. Director Trey Edward Shults also worked with Harrison in the horror-thriller It Comes At Night. The title of this film speaks for itself as it comes crashing down like waves in the ocean and bobs upward with light, levity, and a glimmer of hope in spite of life’s tragedies.
Waves tells the compelling story of an upper-middle-class Black family consumed by a horrific event when Tyler (Harrison) gets into a violent altercation with his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) that ends in tragedy. This changes the course of his life forever which ripples into the lives of his overbearing father Ronald (Brown) and his stepmother Catharine (Goldsberry) who is holding on by a thread to keep this family together. Tyler’s sister Emily (Russell) has witnessed some of the emotional abuse between Tyler and his father, who has set incredibly high expectations on him throughout the years. Tyler practices wrestling as a sport in school and sadly so much pressure put on his body through rigorous training and exercise causes extensive damage to his shoulder that is beyond repair. Thus, he loses the opportunity for a championship.
Tyler then falls into a downward spiral riddled with drug and alcohol abuse while his sister Emily watches and grieves, feeling helpless, wishing there was more she could do to help her brother, who just wanted to be a shining example to both her and her father.
Waves morphs into a two-part film, as Tyler’s story arc ends, Emily’s story arc emerges, and we begin to learn more about her backstory. She meets a young man in her school named Luke (Hedges). He becomes the wave that bobs upward giving some semblance of hope that maybe Emily can breathe again and live a normal life.
Waves combines themes of faith and the importance of family. As incredible and impactful of a story the movie is, it is not the plot that makes this film remarkable; it is the performances. The most groundbreaking of them all comes from Harrison. I have to take a moment and mention the fact that this actor doesn’t get the respect nor the attention he deserves in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, one of his co-stars in this film, Hedges, has received more media attention as an indie darling than Harrison has. After Hedges appeared in films like Boy Erased and Ben Is Back, he was the talk of the town. Meanwhile, during Sundance 2018, Harrison appeared in three films that premiered at the festival — Assassination Nation, All Rise (formerly known as Monster), and Monsters and Men. He has appeared in five films just this year alone, and that doesn’t include TV. He’s one of the hardest working and talented actors in the industry. If his performance in Waves doesn’t convince you he’s an actor worth his salt in this business, then I don’t know what will. I share all of this to say after performances in films like Monsters and Men, All Rise, Luce, and now Waves — it’s time Hollywood starts paying attention to Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Waves is a film that sticks with you long after you watch it. There are themes of forgiveness, redemption, love, and the importance of family, which makes this a universal story anyone can empathize with.
The music score is also amazing. When I saw the credits of who was behind it, I wasn’t surprised that it came from Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame), who has become a movie score legend in the film industry. The electronica-based sounds and rhythmic beats fueled the energetic moments and climactic points of the story.
This film is such a beautifully crafted story with top-notch performances all around. Sterling K. Brown, of course, is amazing and takes it to another level beyond what we’ve seen him do as Randall on This Is Us. And Taylor Russell gives a magnificent performance in the second half of the film depicting Emily’s story, which allows the audience to take a breather after the stressful first half .
Every viewer watching Waves will take a piece from this story with them and learn something from it for their own lives.
Waves is a platform release and will release in NY and LA this Friday and nationwide Wednesday, November 27th.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critic Association