The Wave

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Wave Movie Poster Image
Intriguing but mature, offbeat mystery has drugs, language.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 87 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While it takes problematic behavior to get there, the movie has an inspiring message about how the universe always seeks harmony -- or always allows for something good to happen to counterbalance something bad. But this isn't something that happens independent of us. The main character still must choose his act of goodness.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Frank starts off as a likable but rather terrible character: a consumer of things he doesn't need, unhappily married, and looking to succeed at work even at the others' expense. His appeal lies in the fact that he seems to realize his unhappiness, and when he discovers his purpose, his good deed, his relief and sense of power are palpable.

Violence

Guns and shooting. Frightening drug trip sequence, with distorted sounds and strange, nightmarish visuals. Characters are tied up and gagged. Character is beaten; bleeding mouth drips blood onto shirt. Brief act of violence (beating? stabbing?) shown on TV screen. Car crash. Character hit by car.

Sex

A married character passionately kisses someone other than their spouse. A couple is seen running down a hall naked; the woman's bottom is seen. Couple in shadow passionately kisses in a car. Both opposite- and same-sex kissing. Main character shown in underwear. Strong sex talk.

Language

Constant extreme language includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "c---sucker," "c--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole," "p---y," "dumbass," "son of a bitch," "bitch," "d--k," "whore," "goddamn," "retarded," and "idiot," plus uses of "Jesus," "thank God," and "Jesus Christ."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drug use is part of the plot. Main characters snort cocaine and take unknown "experimental" drugs. (One drug is taken by dropping it on the tongue and then kissing.) A supporting character is a drug dealer. Many kinds of drugs are mentioned and shown. Main character takes more drugs to "take the edge" off the effects of earlier drugs. Cigarette smoking. Frequent drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wave is a kind of metaphysical mystery/existential comedy that may appeal to mature viewers who are looking for something a little different. It's intriguing, clever, colorful, and even thoughtful as it ponders the nature of good and evil. But it also has extremely strong language, with constant use of "f--k," "s--t," "c--k" (in various permutations), and many more. A married character passionately kisses someone other than their spouse, other characters kiss (both same-sex and opposite-sex), and a naked couple runs down a hall (a woman's bottom is visible). Drugs are part of the plot: The main character snorts cocaine and takes a mystery drug; he also drinks whiskey and smokes. A supporting character is a drug dealer. Many drugs are mentioned and shown, and other characters drink and smoke. Guns are fired in one scene, characters are tied up and beaten, and some blood is shown. There's a terrifying, nightmarish drug trip sequence with altered sounds and strange images.

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What's the story?

In THE WAVE, attorney Frank (Justin Long) has just worked out a way to deny a family's huge insurance claim, therefore providing big profit for his company. A co-worker, Jeff (Donald Faison), convinces Frank to go out and celebrate. They meet two women, Theresa (Sheila Vand) and Natalie (Katia Winter), at a bar and then go to a party. Frank meets a mysterious older man who offers him a special, secret drug, which hits him "like a wave." When Frank wakes up, his phone is dead, his wallet and Theresa are missing, and he's late for an important morning meeting. Worse, he starts experiencing scary hallucinations and huge jumps in time, and someone has cleaned out his bank account. After a while, Frank begins seeing signs and realizes that, perhaps, the universe is trying to tell him something.

Is it any good?

Starting as a drug-fueled, night-out-gone-wrong story, this clever little film soon turns into a metaphysical mystery that engages and intrigues with its vivid, offbeat characters and smart dialogue. Above all, The Wave suggests that the universe, in a constant yearning for harmony, tends to balance bad things with good; it's a most warming message for very tough times. It quickly and happily sidesteps the perceived goal of getting Frank to his important meeting on time and starts concentrating on bigger mysteries. The dialogue has a way of not only sounding real and funny but also containing layers, little clues that point to the movie's themes.

Written by Carl W. Lucas and directed by Gille Klabin (the latter making his feature debut), The Wave doesn't forget to have fun. From the mysterious man at the party to Frank's CEO boss (forever holding a clinking glass of whisky on ice) and a philosophical drug dealer (Ronnie Gene Blevins), the characters are swiftly drawn, the flashes of time are doled out economically and cleverly, and the filmmakers demonstrate an assured, crisp use of color and space. It's perhaps a little too lowbrow to reach the heights of other great, existential comedy-mysteries (like Being John Malkovich), but, in its own way, The Wave works well.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Wave depicts substance use/abuse. Are these things glamorized? What, if any, are the consequences for their use? Why is that important?

  • How violent is the movie? Is it shocking or thrilling? Is any of it scary? How did the filmmakers achieve these effects?

  • Do you agree with the movie about how the universe tends to seek harmony and balance? If it's true, how do we help?

  • Despite all his poor behavior, does Frank become a role model? Does he do good for the right reasons? For selfish reasons?

Movie details

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