We think this movie stands out for:
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
Parents and caregivers: Set limits for violence and more with Plus
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Waves is an intense, powerful drama starring Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us) about how a suburban South Florida family tries to move forward after tragedy. It's likely to appeal to teens: It mostly deals with high school life, and Euphoria's Alexa Demie plays a pivotal role. It has themes of forgiveness, empathy, and compassion, but be ready for some pretty mature content. Teen substance abuse is normalized: High schoolers smoke pot, drink, and do drugs. The plot explores what love looks like, as well as what love is not, although a pivotal romantic relationship, while toxic, appears so enviable that it may be hard for teens to totally understand the difference. A young couple in a long-term relationship has sex (nongraphic), and discussion of teen pregnancy and abortion dominates a portion of the film. There's nonstop use of "f--k" and other curse words, mostly by teens, and a brief moment of intense domestic violence.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In WAVES, high school senior Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) appears to have an enviable life: He's a popular athlete with a big future, a caring family, and a beautiful, loving girlfriend. When those elements start to unravel, while he's also feeling pressure from his caring but overbearing father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown), Tyler quietly struggles to keep it all going. When a tragedy occurs, the family must find a way to piece themselves back together and move forward.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the pressure kids can feel from their parents to perform and succeed. Do you think that affects the characters in Waves? Why do you think the father gave that type of attention to his son and not his daughter? Do you think sexism still exists within families for expectations put upon daughters?
Talk about teen pregnancy and sex. Can you think of other movies and TV shows that have tackled these subjects? How does this film approach the topics differently?
How does the movie depict cyberbullying? Why do you think people feel they can say things on social media that they wouldn't say to someone's face? When should parents intervene in a cyberbullying situation?
- In theaters: November 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2020
- Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown
- Director: Trey Edward Shults
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Brothers and Sisters, High School
- Character strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, drug and alcohol use, some sexual content and brief violence-all involving teens
- Last updated: February 3, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love dramas
Find more movies that help kids build character.
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch