All seems to be going exceptionally well for this South Floridian family, until life happens and the water rises. WAVES (A24), written and directed by Trey Edwards Shults is a timely film, full of emotional complexities – while following the transformation of an African American suburban family. In theaters November 15th.
The movie focuses on Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), a senior wrestling and sports standout and his complex relationship with his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) and stepmother Catherine (Renée Elise Goldsberry). While juggling high school life and testing his independence, Tyler is also enjoying young love with his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie), while his younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) helps to pick up the pieces in the background.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with WAVES writer-director Trey Edwards Shults, and co-stars Kelvin Harrison Jr and Taylor Russell while in town for the Mills Valley Film Festival.
Going through life we don’t have the luxury of hindsight. Did filming WAVES make you look back at your own life experiences?
Kelvin Harrison, Jr: I learned so much about my relationships with my parents. That’s what I got from reading the script. Though we may not know how to communicate the best we could have at the time, my dad was trying the best he could. He only could use what he knew and if his dad wasn’t really good at communicating with him, then that’s the only way he’s going to know how to parent. We miss that when we’re that age.
I empathize so much more now. At the level we’re making the movie where we can see the kids, and the parents can see themselves, and their own struggles, and they can also see the kids struggles so clearly. As a kid I wish I had a movie like this to see. Where I could say to myself whoa, look at my actions. Look at how Im responding. I’m so reactive. I don’t have to be so reactive. He (Tyler) doesn’t have to be so reactive. If we just take a moment and communicate, everything changes. It’s about the understanding. That’s what I love about the movie.
There’s so much we learn about your character later in the film. There’s this blooming of your character on screen. What was the experience like?
Taylor Russell: That moment to me is more so a reflection of. If Ronald hadn’t opened up in the way that he did in that scene, I don’t believe she (Emily) would have told him what she did. I don’t think she was going to sit with him that day, and say what she said no matter what he said. I think the only reason she admitted her true feelings, was because she saw her Dad in that moment be extremely vulnerable and she wanted to sit in the mud with him and say you’re not alone. I’m here too, and I feel similarly. And also have somebody to give your pain over to in a moment to confess how you truly feel.
All of those feelings that happen in that scene are happening the entire time in her brain, it’s just that she doesn’t have anybody to talk to. She’s not seen at all by them. The only two people she’s seen by are Alexis, and then by Luke. I think she feels quite alone. As a young woman going through that experience, and somebody who’s not already heard – you keep everything quite close. I think that’s what I was keeping in mind while filming.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr: When they break down like that, and make themselves almost your equal with their vulnerability. I think they become leveled at one moment. It’s so beautiful. Once we start to realize were all just people – everything changes.
Each relationship portrays their own redemption story. What was the creative process like pulling these individual stories together, which also felt very seamless?
Trey Edwards Shults: There’s a lot of interlocking pieces and parts like that. The goal was to put you through Tyler and Emily’s heads, where youre only seeing their point of view until everything snaps together. Ultimatley what its leading towards is a redemption, healing, and contectivity between everyone and these relationships.
WAVES can really help open up communication between parents and teenage youth. If you could reverse the roles and play parent to Tyler and Emily, what would you say?
Taylor Russell: It’s a little hard to think about, because we’re not parents; but what I would like to think I’d say is you’re safe to be whoever you are, and Im not going to judge you. You’re not going to disappoint me, Ill support you whatever decision you make, just know you can be honest with me.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr: I think there are boundaries and lines with love. You have permission to fail, and be whoever you want to be – but Im still going to “parent.”
WAVES opens in theaters – November 15.