Waves (film)

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Waves 2019 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTrey Edward Shults
Produced by
  • Kevin Turen
  • James Wilson
  • Trey Edward Shults
Written byTrey Edward Shults
Music by
CinematographyDrew Daniels
Edited by
  • Trey Edward Shults
  • Isaac Hagy
  • A24
  • Guy Grand Productions
  • JW Films
Distributed byA24
Release date
  • August 30, 2019 (2019-08-30) (Telluride)
  • November 15, 2019 (2019-11-15) (United States)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.2 million[1]

Waves is a 2019 American drama film written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. It stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Sterling K. Brown. Set against the vibrant landscape of South Florida, it traces the epic emotional journey of a suburban family as they navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the aftermath of a loss.

It had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019, and was released in the United States on November 15, 2019, by A24. It received positive reviews from critics, who praised the performances (particularly that of Harrison, Russell, and Brown), cinematography, and Shults' direction, though some were divided over its story structure. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the ten best films of the year.[2]


Tyler Williams is a popular high school senior on the wrestling team. Outside of school, he parties with his friends and spends time with his girlfriend, Alexis Lopez, but is routinely pushed to be better by his domineering father, Ronald. His stepmother, Catherine, is more understanding of Tyler's pressure, and tries her best to connect with him. Unbeknownst to anyone at school or home, Tyler suffers from a Level 5 SLAP tear, which he keeps secret from his family and team by stealing his father’s painkillers. Tyler's doctor highly recommends undergoing surgery before it's too late, but, unwilling to postpone the remainder of his season, Tyler continues to wrestle competitively until he is thrown onto his shoulder during a match, causing irreparable damage and ending his season, as well as his career.

One night, Tyler gets a text from Alexis, who reveals that her period is late, indicating that she is pregnant. He takes her to get an abortion, but when confronted by pro-life protesters outside the clinic, Alexis contemplates bringing the child to term, leading to a heated argument. Tyler objects to becoming parents at their age, and in his condition. Angered by his insensitivity to her own feelings, Alexis walks home alone. Distraught, Tyler begins drinking heavily and abusing drugs at parties with his friends, and is later consoled by his younger sister, Emily. Eventually, Tyler texts Alexis back, who is willing to mend their relationship. However, Alexis tells Tyler that she has decided to keep the child with support from her family. When Tyler tries calling her and demands to speak to her in person, Alexis breaks up with him and blocks his number, sending him into a rage.

The night of the school dance, Tyler goes on Instagram and sees Alexis posing for a picture with another boy. He gets high, and attempts to leave the house before being confronted by Catherine. Ronald attempts to defuse the situation, but Tyler throws him to the floor and leaves in Ronald's truck. He drives to a house party, where he sees Alexis go upstairs with the boy from the photo. Emily notices his arrival from a distance but says nothing, and Tyler drinks heavily before following Alexis to the garage, demanding to know if she had sex with the boy and if she's been drinking while pregnant. She asserts her the boy she was with is gay, but their argument turns physical, the two trading blows before Tyler strikes Alexis, slamming her head into the floor and knocking her unconscious as she begins to bleed out. Horrified, Tyler flees the scene after a girl walks into the garage and witnesses the act. Ronald arrives shortly after, bearing witness to a chaotic scene of police and paramedics, before Emily breaks down and reveals what happened. Tyler returns home before attempting to run away on foot. However, he is caught and arrested by the police. Paramedics attempt to resuscitate Alexis, but she dies from her injuries.

Despite a guilty plea, Tyler is sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder, with the eligibility of parole after thirty years. Between the flood of support Alexis receives and the spiteful messages levied toward her and her brother, a grieving Emily deletes her social media accounts. One day, she is approached by Luke, an awkward but kindhearted classmate who was also Tyler’s wrestling teammate. He asks her out to lunch and the two begin dating. Emily begins to open up to Luke and her classmates, participating in activities outside of school with them. During this time, Emily also overhears Ronald and Catherine arguing over Tyler, with Ronald blaming Catherine for her lack of presence in his and Emily’s lives, and Catherine accusing Ronald of putting too much pressure on Tyler. While fishing, Emily reveals to Ronald that she feels guilty knowing that she could've stopped Tyler and that she hates him for what he did. Ronald advises her not to hold a grudge against her brother and that no matter what, he loves them both. The two reconcile.

Meanwhile, Emily and Luke become closer, eventually having sex for the first time. Emily learns from Luke that his estranged, abusive father is dying of cancer, and she urges him to make amends with him with the time he has left. The two drive to Columbia, Missouri, where Luke's father is residing, and upon seeing his son, Luke’s father’s spirits are lifted. He begins to survive longer than expected, but soon passes away in the night, and Emily consoles a mourning Luke on the drive home to Miami while Catherine visits Tyler in prison, Alexis’s parents grieve, and Catherine reconnects with Ronald. Sometime after arriving home, Emily rides a bike, having found peace.



In July 2018, it was announced Lucas Hedges, Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell joined the cast of the film, with Trey Edward Shults directing, from a screenplay he wrote. Kevin Turen and James Wilson served as producers on the film, with A24 producing and distributing.[3][4] In August 2018, Alexa Demie joined the cast.[5]

Principal photography began on July 9, 2018, in Broward County, Florida.[6]


Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross composed the film's score, replacing Shults' frequent collaboration with Brian McOmber. In an interview, Shults stated "I got one of the coolest e-mails of my life one day that Trent Reznor was a fan and wanted to meet. I got on a plane on soon as I could and went to L.A. and met him and Atticus for lunch. Instantly, the energy was great. They had seen and dug my other movies and just wanted to work together."[7] The score was released on November 26, 2019, on Nine Inch Nails' online store[8].

The film's soundtrack features a compilation of contemporary rap, R&B, alternative, and experimental pop music from artists such as Animal Collective, Tame Impala, Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, The Shoes, H.E.R., Tyler, the Creator, Kid Cudi, Fuck Buttons, Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, THEY., SZA, Chance the Rapper, Radiohead, and Alabama Shakes.


Waves premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019.[9][10] It screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2019.[11][12] It was released on November 15, 2019 in New York City and Los Angeles, expanding to major U.S. cities the week after, with a wide release set for December 6.[13] In September, Focus Features acquired the international distribution rights to the film, excluding Canada, China and Japan.[14]


Box office[edit]

In its limited opening weekend, Waves made $134,333 from four theaters, a per-venue average of $33,583.[15] Expanding to 21 theaters the following weekend the film made $168,760, and then $140,995 from 44 theaters in its third.[16][17]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 87% based on 137 reviews, with an average rating of 7.97/10. The site's consensus reads: "An up-close look at one family's emotional ups and downs, Waves captures complicated dynamics with tenderness and grace."[18] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 81 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[19]

IndieWire's Eric Kohn gave the film a B+, stating "It’s a definitive statement on the present moment, evoking the sheer horror of every uncertain exchange, and the courage involved in moving ahead regardless of what it means for the future".[20] Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times called it "deeply rooted in its characters’ consciousness, alert to the feelings of dread, shame, rage and despair that threaten to bring these fast-moving lives to a standstill".[21]

Conversely, in her review for The Globe and Mail, Sarah-Tai Black wrote "I'm tired of watching movies by white directors that are sold to black audiences as if our lived experience is as culturally transmittable as making a mix-tape...Shults, who is white, lacks not only the lived experience to responsibly make this film, but also the lack of vision needed to sell it as the challenging formal experience it wishes to see itself as".[22]


Award Date of Ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Film Independent Spirit Awards February 8, 2020 Best Supporting Female Taylor Russell Pending [23]
Gotham Awards December 2, 2019 Best Feature Nominated [24]
Breakthrough Actor Taylor Russell Won
Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society TBA Best Picture Nominated [25]
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Taylor Russell Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. Nominated
Taylor Russell Nominated
Best Cast Cast of Waves Nominated
Best Independent Film Nominated
Best Cinematography Drew Daniels Nominated
Best Score Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross Nominated
National Board of Review December 3, 2019 Top Films Won [26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Waves (2019) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
  2. ^ "National Board of Review 2019: 'The Irishman' Wins Best Film, Adam Sandler Named Best Actor". National Board of Review. December 3, 2019. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  3. ^ Kroll, Justin (July 2, 2018). "Lucas Hedges, Sterling K. Brown to Star in Musical 'Waves' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  4. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (July 2, 2018). "Kelvin Harrison Jr. Re-Teams With Trey Edward Shults In A24's 'Waves', Starring With Lucas Hedges, Sterling K. Brown". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  5. ^ Kroll, Justin (August 15, 2018). "'Mid90s' Actress Alexa Demie Joins Lucas Hedges, Sterling K. Brown in A24's 'Waves' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  6. ^ "Trey Edward Shults' New Movie 'WAVES' Open Casting Call". Project Casting. June 19, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  7. ^ Hicks, Luke (November 21, 2019). ""Godspeed": Trey Edward Shults On WAVES, His Most Personal Film Yet". Birth.Movies.Death. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  8. ^ "WAVES (ORIGINAL SCORE) - Nine Inch Nails". Nine Inch Nails. November 26, 2019. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  9. ^ Hammond, Pete (August 29, 2019). "Telluride Film Festival: 'Ford V Ferrari', 'Judy', 'Motherless Brooklyn', Weinstein-Inspired Drama 'The Assistant' Among Premieres Headed To 46th Edition – Full List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  10. ^ "Telluride Program Guide" (PDF). Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  11. ^ Vlessing, Etan (August 13, 2019). "'The Aeronauts,' 'Burnt Orange Heresy' Added to Toronto Film Fest Lineup". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  12. ^ "Waves". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  13. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 22, 2019). "A24 Opening Trey Edward Shults' 'Waves' In Prime Awards Season November Spot". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  14. ^ Kay, Jeremy (September 6, 2019). "Focus Features acquires international rights to TIFF selection 'Waves' (exclusive)". Screen International. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  15. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (November 17, 2019). "'Waves' Makes Box Office Splash as Amazon and Netflix Stay Quiet". IndieWire. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  16. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (November 24, 2019). "'Dark Waters' Leads Tepid Arthouse Openers at Crowded Box Office". IndieWire. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  17. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (December 1, 2019). "'Harriet,' 'Jojo Rabbit,' and 'Parasite' Reap Holiday Box Office Bounty". IndieWire. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  18. ^ "Waves (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  19. ^ "Waves Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  20. ^ Kohn, Eric (August 30, 2019). "'Waves' Review: Trey Shults' Dizzying Tearjerker Depicts How a 21st-Century Family Can Fall Apart". IndieWire. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  21. ^ Chang, Justin (November 13, 2019). "Review: 'Waves' shatters expectations with a family drama that's pure cinema". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  22. ^ Black, Sarah-Tai (November 20, 2019). "Trey Edward Shults's Waves is a hollow attempt at selling black lives as cultural product". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  23. ^ Sharf, Zack (November 21, 2019). "2020 Independent Spirit Awards Nominees: 'Marriage Story,' 'Uncut Gems,' and More". IndieWire. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  24. ^ Sharf, Zack (December 2, 2019). "Gotham Winners: 'Marriage Story' Wins Big as Gerwig, Awkwafina Steal the Show Backstage". IndieWire. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  25. ^ Neglia, Matt (November 25, 2019). "The 2019 Hollywood Critics Association (HCA) Nominations". Next Best Picture. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  26. ^ Sharf, Zack (December 3, 2019). "National Board of Review 2019: 'The Irishman' Wins Best Film, Adam Sandler Named Best Actor". IndieWire. Retrieved December 5, 2019.

External links[edit]