McCoy on Movies: Waves

McCoy on Movies: Waves

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It’s a portrait of an African American family in turmoil that comes to vivid life with what our critic says is a stellar cast. Worth the watch? Read on for more.


“Now … Remember – this is a movie, not This is Us, so we won’t have commercial breaks!” Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), Emily (Taylor Russell), Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) and Catharine (Renée Elise Goldberry) share a moment in a scene from WAVES. Credit: © 2019 A24 Films. All rights reserved.


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges, Renée Elise Goldberry and Alexa Demie

DIRECTOR(S): Trey Edward Shults 


THE BACK STORY: Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is a talented high school wrestler who has a lot going for him. Sure, his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) pushes him hard, but he’s got great support in the form of his stepmother (Renée Elise Goldberry), his sister Emily (Taylor Russell) and the “goddess” in his cell phone, a.k.a. his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie).

Then, over the course of one night, his life changes forever – and so does the life of everyone close to him.

Their lives now turned completely upside down, the Williams family finds themselves struggling to recover in the wake of tragedy. But when Emily meets a shy classmate in the form of Luke (Lucas Hedges), she discovers she may hold the key to healing her family so that they can once again be whole. 

THE REVIEW: Finding the beauty of life and love out of tragedy and heartbreak … If there is one thing that you will take away from watching Waves – which honestly should be a nominee for Best Picture for all the reasons that past Academy Award-winner Crash shouldn’t have been – it should be this sentiment. For in crafting a tale full of promise, then self-destruction, then heartbreak and a resurrection of a chance of hope, writer/director Trey Edward Shults and his cast have created what may be the best film of 2019.Waves features a very simple story – to say more would be to give away too much – that would NOT simple to process in real life. As the domineering but well-meaning Ronald, Sterling K. Brown gives a powerhouse performance that serves almost like a “Hey – don’t forget me in the conversation of great African-American male actors” announcement, showing the type of sensitivity rarely seen in a lead black males role. It is the performances of and interaction between Russell’s Emily and Hedges’ Luke, however, that steals the show, rounding out Waves’ set of emotional exploration with grace, aplomb and wisdom beyond their years. Both show a level of talent and skill that drives their story arc home in a way people of all ages, races and orientations will likely admire and aspire to have in their own existence. There are some very hard moments to watch of self-destruction, turbulence and turmoil, followed by some extremely gentle, heartfelt and warm moments that may bring a tear of happiness as much as the others do out of sadness.

The performances truly bring out the radiance of the story of Waves, one in which you are fully immersed in the characters’ respective worlds. Shults’ nuanced work behind the lens makes the characters’ world come alive, in turn making their respective heartbreaks and outcomes all the more intense and more importantly, authentic and relatable. Watching one character’s self-destructive path give birth to the awakening of another’s could come off extremely clumsy or clichéd in the wrong hands; fortunately for Shults and company, their commitment to the tale makes everything work in grand fashion. Whether you are a parent, a confused adolescent trying to figure out the world, someone trying to overcome grief, a person holding on to a past tragic experience, Waves offers something most movies do not – therapy and hope – that may serve to help as much as it does entertain.

Yes, the story is compelling in and of itself, but it also looks to explore healing and what that may look like for many different people. Despite a predominantly African American cast, race is not the focus of the story as much as our general humanity is. That in turn may actually help in showcasing African-Americans in a way they are rarely shown in mainstream media, a fresh breath of air that explores the “we’re all human” notion without being blatant, over-the-top or fool-hearty (hence the earlier Crash reference). With apologies to Brown, one might consider it a long episode of This is Us that doesn’t explore the past or present as much as it does look towards the future.

In short, Waves should make waves upon its national release this week because in a world – pardon the terrible wordplay – full of storms, the film serves as an oasis all should experience.


Columnist - Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. An award-winning stand-up comedian who also works as the public relations director at Cincinnati Museum Center, Tabari McCoy is the creator of McCoy on Movies, a blog about movies for film fans. The blog is written by someone who also likes movies that is smart enough to know his opinion isn't always the right one but is willing to express that opinion in public. McCoy also used to review movies for his college paper and a major metropolitan publication, so that helps add to his "street cred." Contact him at You can also check out more of his work on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy.