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Movie Review: No Feelings For 'Waves'

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Director Trey Edward Shults has previously made two movies, one of which I liked, and one of which I loathed, so I was interested to see his newest, Waves, to see how it would break the tie.

Strangely, somehow it didn’t. Because I can’t remember the last time I had less of a reaction to a movie. This is an odd thing to say, and an even odder thing to experience, but, all in all, Waves made me feel… basically nothing. 

Here are the feelings I do remember: As it seemed the movie might be wrapping up, I looked at the clock and was completely floored to discover there was still an hour left. A similar thing happened half an hour later. It did, eventually, end.

The movie is split into two parts, telling the stories of a teenage brother and sister — the brother being pushed too hard, falling into some pretty difficult situations, and making some tragically bad decisions; the sister finding her own way as she deals with the turmoil and learns what it means to grow up a little bit.

Shults draws a massive amount of attention to himself, moving the camera all over the place, especially early on, and changing the aspect ratio of the screen projection multiple times. But how else can he make you know This Is Art? The characters speak believably, in that most of them are fairly inarticulate, except when they’re saying Very Important Things, at which point they fall into the most familiar banal movie dialogue.

If it sounds like I didn’t like Waves, that’s true, but that also implies I had an emotional reaction to it, which, again, I didn’t. I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t remotely interested. There’s not a conventional narrative, but given that movies where nothing happens are pretty much my favorite kind of movies, I don’t think the problem lies with me. I feel like there might be some good things there about regret and forgiveness, but I guess I was so numbed by Shults’ approach it all just passed in front of me to no effect. I do owe it to you to let you know I’m in the very small minority on this — it’s otherwise had near-universal critical praise. But I also can’t lie about my experience. I saw moving pictures, projected on a screen, and then I left the theater.

But! On a separate and much more welcome note: Happy 90th birthday to my predecessor, KMUW’s longtime movie critic Jim Erickson. There’s a celebration for Jim Monday evening at Harry’s Uptown — all are welcome. There will be cake.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.