Waves (film)

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Waves 2019 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTrey Edward Shults
Written byTrey Edward Shults
Produced by
  • Kevin Turen
  • James Wilson
  • Trey Edward Shults
CinematographyDrew Daniels
Edited by
  • Trey Edward Shults
  • Isaac Hagy
Music by
  • Guy Grand Productions
  • JW Films
Distributed by
Release dates
  • August 30, 2019 (2019-08-30) (Telluride)
  • November 15, 2019 (2019-11-15) (United States)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.6 million[2]

Waves is a 2019 American drama film written, co-produced and directed by Trey Edward Shults. Along with Shults, it was produced by Kevin Turen and Jessica Row. It stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Sterling K. Brown.

Principal photography began on July 9, 2018 in Broward County, Florida and wrapped up on August 24, 2018. The cast was announced in July, with Demie joining in August.

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. It grossed over $2 million worldwide.


Tyler Williams is a popular high school senior on the wrestling team. 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. Unbeknownst to anyone, Tyler suffers from a Level 5 SLAP tear, which he keeps secret from his family and team by stealing his father's painkillers. Against the recommendation of his doctor, 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. Tyler's life is further complicated when he receives a text from Alexis, who reveals that her period is late, indicating that she is pregnant. He takes her to get an abortion, but she has a last-minute change of heart. On the way home, the couple has a fight and Alexis walks home alone.

Distraught, Tyler begins drinking heavily and abusing drugs. Eventually, Tyler texts Alexis, who is willing to mend their relationship. She tells Tyler that she has decided to keep the child with support from her family, but when Tyler demands to speak to her in person, Alexis breaks up with him and blocks his number, sending him into a rage as he destroys his bedroom. The night of the school's "Maverick Ball", a grounded Tyler goes on Instagram and sees a picture showing Alexis posing with another boy. He gets drunk and high and attempts to leave the house, but is confronted by his stepmom, Catherine. His father attempts to defuse the situation, but Tyler pushes him to the floor and leaves.

He drives to a house party, where he sees Alexis go upstairs with the boy from the photo. Tyler's younger sister Emily notices his arrival from a distance but says nothing, and Tyler drinks heavily before following Alexis to the garage. An exchange of words leads to an argument, which turns physical when Alexis slaps Tyler and he hits her back, causing her head to hit the floor. She begins to bleed out, and, horrified, Tyler flees. Ronald arrives shortly after, finding Emily, who tearfully confirms Ronald's suspicions. Tyler returns home before attempting to run away on foot. However, he is quickly 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. After school one day, Emily is approached by Luke, an awkward but kindhearted classmate who was also one of Tyler's wrestling teammates. He asks her out to lunch and the two begin dating. Emily begins to open up to Luke, participating in activities outside of school with him, such as swimming with manatees. During this time, Emily also overhears Ronald and Catherine arguing about 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. During a conversation they have while fishing, Emily reveals to Ronald that she feels guilty, believing 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, as Emily and Tyler's mother died from a drug overdose when they were young. The two drive to Columbia, Missouri, where Luke's father is residing, and upon seeing his son, Luke's father's spirits are lifted, with Luke forgiving his father. He survives longer than expected, but passes away one night, which causes Luke to heavily sob. Emily consoles Luke on the drive home to Miami while Catherine visits Tyler in prison, Alexis' parents grieve, and Ronald reconnects with Catherine. Sometime after arriving home, Emily rides her bike down an empty street and lifts her arms from the handlebars.



Kevin Turen and James Wilson served as producers on the film, with A24 producing and distributing[3][4] and with Trey Edward Shults directing, producing, from a screenplay he wrote.

According to Adam White of The Independent, initially the family of the film did not have a racial background specified in the plans.[5]

Demie suggested a scene where Alexis and Emily meet in a restroom, with the scene implying a change of focus from one woman to the other. Lauren McCarthy of Nylon stated that the film had a "collaborative nature" style.[6]

Demie stated that the filming of the initial driving scene made it seem like a film crew was not present.[6] Demie also stated that Alexis, compared to Maddy Perez in Euphoria, another character Demie portrayed, "is much stronger, she’s always fighting back and setting boundaries".[7]


In July 2018, it was announced Lucas Hedges, Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell joined the cast of the film. In August 2018, Alexa Demie joined the cast.[8]


Principal photography began on July 9, 2018 in Broward County, Florida. Key Biscayne, FLorida [9] Some filming was done in Hollywood, Florida.[10]


Trent Reznor and 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 as 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."[11] The score was released on November 26, 2019, on Nine Inch Nails' online store.[12]

The film's soundtrack features a compilation of contemporary rap, R&B, alternative, and experimental pop music from artists including Animal Collective, Tame Impala, Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, The Shoes, H.E.R., Tyler, the Creator, Fuck Buttons, Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, THEY., Kid Cudi, Colin Stetson, SZA, Chance the Rapper, Radiohead, and Alabama Shakes. The full list of songs used in the film was made available on A24's website, in an article where Shults annotates the usage of the songs.[13]

Shults wrote specific music cues into the screenplay such as Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle" and embedded files into the scripts sent to actors so they could listen to the intended songs for each scene. He shot the film having not yet acquired the rights to certain songs and agreed to cut scenes if negotiations failed than reshoot. A letter and rough cut of the film was sent to Ocean, who cleared his songs for use after watching. Negotiations with West stretched over months before "I Am a God" was approved with a stipulation that a "clean" version would need to be featured due to West moving away from secular music.[14]


Waves premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019.[15][16] It screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2019.[17][18] 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.[19] In September, Focus Features acquired the international distribution rights to the film, excluding Canada, China and Japan.[1]


Box office[edit]

Waves grossed a total of $1.7 million in the United States.[2] In its limited opening weekend, the film made $134,333 from four theaters, a per-venue average of $33,583.[20] Expanding to 21 theaters the following weekend the film made $168,760, and then $140,995 from 44 theaters in its third.[21][22]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 84% based on 254 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. 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."[23] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 80 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[24]

Paul Whitington of the Irish Independent gave the film five stars.[25]

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".[26] 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".[27] It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the ten best films of the year.[28]

Sterling K. Brown stated, "I’ve never seen a middle to upper middle class black family dealing with the problems that [the family] has in this movie".[29]

Prince Shakur of Teen Vogue stated that Tyler's story shows the effects of "toxic masculinity". Harrison stated that due to the previously inferior position in society occupied by African-Americans, there is often "a pressure placed on young Black boys to excel".[30]


Award Date of Ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
African-American Film Critics Association December 11, 2019 Breakout Performance Kelvin Harrison Jr. Won
Top 10 Films Waves Won
We See You Award Taylor Russell Won
Austin Film Critics Association February 7, 2020 Best Score Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Nominated
Black Reel Awards February 6, 2020 Outstanding Motion Picture Trey Edward Shults, Kevin Turen, and James Wilson Nominated [31]
Outstanding Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. Nominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress Taylor Russell Nominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble Avy Kaufman Nominated
Outstanding Original Score Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Nominated
Outstanding Cinematography Drew Daniels Nominated
Casting Society of America January 31, 2020 Studio or Independent – Drama Avy Kaufman and Mark Mullen Nominated [32]
Chicago Film Critics Association July 28, 2020 Most Promising Performer Taylor Russell Nominated
Film Independent Spirit Awards February 8, 2020 Best Supporting Female Taylor Russell Nominated
Georgia Film Critics Association January 10, 2020 Breakthrough Award Kelvin Harrison Jr. Nominated
Taylor Russell Nominated
Gotham Awards December 2, 2019 Best Feature Waves Nominated [33]
Breakthrough Actor Taylor Russell Won
Audience Award Waves Nominated
Hamptons International Film Festival October 10, 2019 Zicherman Screenplay Award Trey Edward Shults & A24 Won
Hollywood Critics Association November 25, 2019 Best Picture Waves Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Taylor Russell Nominated
Best Cast Cast of Waves Nominated
Breakthrough Performance Kelvin Harrison Jr. Won
Taylor Russell Nominated
Best Cinematography Drew Daniels Nominated
Best Score Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Nominated
Best Independent Film Waves Won
Star on the Rise Award Taylor Russell Won
Hollywood Critics Association January 11, 2020 Best Picture Waves Nominated [34][35]
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Taylor Russell Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. Won
Taylor Russell Nominated
Best Cast Cast of Waves Nominated
Best Independent Film Waves Won[a]
Best Cinematography Drew Daniels Nominated
Best Score Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Nominated
NAACP Image Awards February 22, 2020 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Motion Picture Sound Editors January 19, 2020 Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing - Music Score for Feature Film Sally Boldt, Trey Edward Shults, Johnnie Burn Won
National Board of Review January 3, 2020 Top Films Waves Won [36]
New York Film Critics Online December 7, 2019 Breakthrough Performance Kelvin Harrison Jr. Won
San Diego Film Critics Society December 9, 2019 Breakthrough Artist Kelvin Harrison Jr. Nominated
Santa Barbara International Film Festival January, 2020 Virtuoso Award Taylor Russell Won
Seattle Film Critics Society December 16, 2019 Best Supporting Actress Taylor Russell Nominated
St. Louis Film Critics Association December 15, 2019 Best Film Waves Runner-up
Best Soundtrack Waves 2nd place
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association December 8, 2019 Best Cinematography Drew Daniels Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tied with The Farewell.


  1. ^ a b Kay, Jeremy (September 6, 2019). "Focus Features acquires international rights to TIFF selection 'Waves' (exclusive)". Screen International. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Waves (2019)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  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. ^ White, Adam (2020-01-16). "Waves review: A family drama that is all dazzle and no thought". The Independent. Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  6. ^ a b McCarthy, Lauren. "How Alexa Demie Helped Create One Of The Most Emotional Scenes In 'Waves'". Nylon. Retrieved 2020-11-23.
  7. ^ Aguilar, Carlos. "Alexa Demie on Clichéd Latino Roles: "I Think They Just Do a Disservice to Us"". Remezcla. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Trey Edward Shults' New Movie 'WAVES' Open Casting Call". Project Casting. June 19, 2018. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  10. ^ Diaz, Johnny (2018-08-14). "Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges filming 'Waves' movie in South Florida". South Florida Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 2022-05-23.
  11. ^ Hicks, Luke (November 21, 2019). ""Godspeed": Trey Edward Shults On WAVES, His Most Personal Film Yet". Birth.Movies.Death. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  12. ^ "WAVES (ORIGINAL SCORE) - Nine Inch Nails". Nine Inch Nails. November 26, 2019. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  13. ^ "The Annotated Waves Playlist". A24 Films. December 6, 2019. Retrieved January 8, 2020.
  14. ^ Buchanan, Kyle (December 10, 2019). "How 'Waves' Got Kanye and Kendrick on Its Soundtrack". The New York Times. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Telluride Program Guide" (PDF). Retrieved August 29, 2019.
  17. ^ Vlessing, Etan (August 13, 2019). "'The Aeronauts,' 'Burnt Orange Heresy' Added to Toronto Film Fest Lineup". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  18. ^ "Waves". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  19. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 22, 2019). "A24 Opening Trey Edward Shults' 'Waves' in Prime Awards Season November Spot". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  20. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (November 17, 2019). "'Waves' Makes Box Office Splash as Amazon and Netflix Stay Quiet". IndieWire. Retrieved November 17, 2019.
  21. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (November 24, 2019). "'Dark Waters' Leads Tepid Arthouse Openers at Crowded Box Office". IndieWire. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  22. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (December 1, 2019). "'Harriet,' 'Jojo Rabbit,' and 'Parasite' Reap Holiday Box Office Bounty". IndieWire. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  23. ^ "Waves (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  24. ^ "Waves Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 24, 2020.
  25. ^ Whitington, Paul (2020-01-16). "Waves review: An unflinchingly emotional tale from a director with an endlessly inventive approach". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Chang, Justin (November 13, 2019). "Review: 'Waves' shatters expectations with a family drama that's pure cinema". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  28. ^ "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.
  29. ^ Nichols, Mackenzie (2019-11-11). "'Waves' Cast Reflects on the Making of the Tragic Family Drama". Variety. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  30. ^ Shakur, Prince (2019-11-15). "WAVES Explores the Dangers of Toxic Masculinity". Teen Vogue. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
  31. ^ Morales, Wilson (December 11, 2019). "20th Annual Black Reel Awards - Nominees Announced". Black Film. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  32. ^ Schaffstall, Katherine (January 2, 2020). "Artios Awards: 'Hustlers,' 'Knives Out,' 'Rocketman' Among Casting Society Film Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  33. ^ Sharf, Zack (December 2, 2019). "Gotham Winners: 'Marriage Story' Wins Big as Gerwig, Awkwafina Steal the Show Backstage". IndieWire. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  34. ^ Neglia, Matt (November 25, 2019). "The 2019 Hollywood Critics Association (HCA) Nominations". Next Best Picture. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  35. ^ "Full Winners List From The 2020 Hollywood Critics Association Awards". Hollywood Critics Association. January 11, 2020. Retrieved September 23, 2020.
  36. ^ 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]