Parents' Guide to


By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Intense drama reflects teen culture; substance use, cursing.

Movie R 2019 135 minutes
Waves Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 16+

Based on 2 parent reviews

age 15+


Depressing drama with no focus. Underdeveloped characters. Even Sterling Brown, who I think is a great actor, couldn’t save it.
age 17+

Waves Review

Waves stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Lucas Hedges, and Renée Elise Goldsberry in this drama about a family that undergoes a heavy tragedy and it showcases each character as they are struggling to find their way. This was my most anticipated film of November, so I was ridiculously excited to go see it. It wasn’t playing anywhere near me so I drove out of my way a bit to be able to watch it. Can I just begin by saying that this is likely the most beautifully shot film of the year. Trey Edward Shults masterfully directs this film and Drew Daniels handling cinematography was truly phenomenal. I haven’t seen too much other work from these two individuals but just based on the look of this film, I have to see more. I will look forward to what they come out with next. Each shot in this film was absolutely stunning. I absolutely loved it and the formatting of the film was so unique as well, which I will discuss more about later in the review! The performances in this movie are extremely powerful. Sterling K. Brown is excellent and Kelvin Harrison Jr. gives a brutally honest performance that felt so raw and real. It will probably get overlooked by the academy, unfortunately, but it certainly won’t be forgotten by audiences that came to see the film. The film basically has two distinct halves with kind of an epilogue that help to translate messages of being human and making mistakes and having forgiveness and compassion. The formatting of the film helped to really emphasize these kinds of moments. At a certain point in the film when something big happens, the aspect ratio switches. This happens again later in the film and I thought that was so amazing because it was another form of carrying the story along, not just through the writing— but through the filming as well. The creators of this movie put so much thought into the final product and I’m grateful for that. The story was absolutely captivating and at one point, even brought me to tears. It makes sure that you understand each of the characters and what they are struggling with internally and when some of them make bad decisions, it doesn’t make you think of them as bad but it just is more endearing because you feel for them and you realize they are not in the right headspace for various reasons. This movie goes deep to send its messages and it forces you to continue thinking about it and talking about it hours after the film has already ended. The film ultimately feels like a story about a teenage boy who has a lot of things going on in his life that lead to a critical moment and there is a second story about the aftermath of that moment. There are other films that have done this such as The Place Beyond the Pines. I absolutely love films that do that because it makes the story feel that much more heavy and powerful. I only had a few issues with this film which are basically just long ways of me saying I wanted more. The movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes but it could have been another 35 minutes long and I would have been highly invested. You see our central characters making these mistakes that are life-determining and you almost grieve with them through the things they are battling emotionally. It also shines a light on the fact that we are only human and we make a lot of mistakes and do things that aren’t the best for us, sometimes. I loved the religious messages in the film as well. There are many moments where I feel like it is saying when things are so bad and nobody else is with you, God still is. The film isn’t necessarily religiously driven, but there are religious characters, such as the dad played by Sterling K. Brown, and you see his own mistakes but how he still relies on God. The same goes for Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s character. My only issue is that I desired to see a little more of the closure because the movie left me speechless and with questions concerning the fate of these characters that you have come to really care about for the past two hours, but I believe this is what the writers/director would have wanted, and that being the case— they did a job well done. Ultimately, this is a film about having forgiveness and compassion, realizing that we are only human, and just that life can be going good until it hits you in waves. This movie was very deep and it was very honest. Therefore, I am going to give Waves 5/5 STARS

This title has:

Great messages
Great role models
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (2 ):
Kids say (2 ):

Writer-director Trey Edwards Shults lobs a cinematic ticking time bomb here, using intense visual and audio elements to create palpable dread. When it all blows up, viewers watch, agape, as the smoke clears into a peaceful haze. The entire experience feels new and innovative, starting from Waves first moments, with 360-degree camera work gliding in rhythm with psychedelic rock (part of a phenomenal soundtrack) and encircling a young couple in love who are singing at the top of their lungs while driving down Miami's US 1. There's nothing about the scene that doesn't scream happiness, but the audience instantly understands: Don't get comfortable.

It's an intense experience, intent on evoking empathy and compassion. Waves looks at an act that most would call the work of a monster and then opens viewers' hearts to realize that there's more to the story. And that even if there is more to the story, that doesn't make it OK. All the moving parts that lead to the movie's central tragedy are accounted for, including the pressure parents put on kids to succeed. Ronald delivers a haunting line to Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), one that speaks to the unfair struggle of the Black community: "We are not afforded the luxury of being average." It doesn't feel over the top, and it doesn't feel untrue, and yet the audience feels the weight of that statement on Tyler's shoulders: He cannot disappoint his family, his community, his race. More notably, as Tyler's story comes to a halt, the film transitions to his reserved younger sister. It's no coincidence that Emily (Taylor Russell) only starts to shine once Tyler's story goes dark; she represents all kids who grow up in the shadow of "star" siblings. The film hits on themes of love, forgiveness, redemption, and faith. It's an impactful film about a family, but it's not just for parents; with the phenomenal soundtrack, edgy cinematography, and honest reflection of high school culture, it's one that will serve as a magnet for teens, too.

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