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Stellar cast powers family drama ‘Waves’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO

Set in South Florida, the contemporary, family drama “Waves,” stars Sterling K. Brown (NBC’s “This Is Us”), Renée Elise Goldsberry (“Hamilton), and breakout actors Kelvin Harrison, Jr, and Taylor Russell as a suburban, African-American family on an emotional rollercoaster of love and loss, grief and forgiveness.

The music, which is scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, combined with the captivating cinematography, propels you forward into the chaos and into the headspace of the characters. The conversations and the nuances of this particular African American family are told in a very real and authentic manner. The film ropes you in and you feel their pain and heartache so acutely when the pressures they face at work and at school, begin to mount and the façade begins to crumble.

That’s due in part to not only the portrayals of the characters by the stellar cast but also in part to the collaboration between director Trey Edwards Shults, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who plays the son, Tyler.

The two previously worked together on Shults’ second feature-length film, “It Comes at Night.” From that experience they knew that they wanted to make something together. “I started telling him ideas about this and a year later we finished the last movie and I wanted to start writing this,” said Shults by phone recently. Their time together was filled with discussing how they were raised, their fathers and their siblings, their similarities and differences, as well as their parallels. “It was like we were in mini therapy sessions,” remarked Shults.

Shults, who is white, was very aware of the challenges he faced in directing the film, and in getting the right cast. Securing Sterling K. Brown as the dad was “basically a dream,” said the director. “I sent him the script with a letter and he loved it. But then we talked on the phone and he wanted to make sure, I don’t want to spoil the film, this pivotal, central event was handled right.” Shults assured him that he would do everything in his power to make the film succeed because he was coming from a place of love, collaboration, and respect. Not just for the storyline and the characters, but also for his actors.

No stranger on the subject of family and relationships, these themes consistently weave their way into Shults’ previous films, including “Waves.” “I’m fascinated by family, the good and the bad, and all of it,” said the director. He doesn’t like to overthink it and doesn’t set out to create elaborate and dynamic family stories but he thinks it happens so organically because “they’re so personal and family is such a huge part of my life.”

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