kevinyang’s review published on Letterboxd:
The most arrogant type of film - one that presumes to understand the lives and experiences of people of color, yet refuses to acknowledge its own shortcomings while gleefully inserting itself into every facet of their cultures. It's a film created by a filmmaker who thinks calling his project "autobiographical" or "color blind" will somehow absolve him of all accountability in the portrayals we see on screen. It's a film that completes a trifecta of being morally, structurally, and tonally inept, wholly incapable of cobbling together any semblance of a good script because it's too distracted by pretty colors. I realize this film means a lot to a lot of you, so allow me to explain.
I thought Krisha was great - it felt like the story of the Shults family at an incredibly intimate level, and the filmmaking fit the story. But to call Waves autobiographical in that sense, thereby superimposing a white Texan man's story onto that of a black family in the south, is arrogance of the highest order. But, but...shouldn't filmmakers be allowed to write outside their limited perspectives? Honestly, oftentimes the answer is no, especially when POC so desperately want to write all kinds of stories but are closed off from even telling their own. And in this case, Shults will tell you (and I know he's said this) - when you ask what gives him the right to tell this story, he says this is largely his story and his perspective and his life. Which, if you've seen the film, you'll know is a ridiculous statement considering what goes down. It'd almost be funny how ridiculous it is if the result wasn't perpetuating black stereotypes and inflicting on-screen violence on people of color. Especially violence against characters who have so little thought put into them from a script standpoint, outside of moving the plot along. I've had enough of the fetishization of POC pain, especially in scenes fabricated by white filmmakers as an attempt at dramatic heft.
The number of acknowledgements that this isn't Shults forcing his own perspective into the frame can be counted on one hand, not to mention these are the most painfully obvious "acknowledgements" known to mankind - it's almost as if a white man doesn't know the subtleties of what it's like to be a person of color in America. I didn't love the film, but check out Luce for a more interesting and worthwhile exploration of black masculinity, performative whiteness, and privilege.
If you haven't tapped out yet due to a moral objection to my moral objections, let me close by emphasizing just how poorly constructed a film this is on a structural level. The two films in one approach is just woefully misinformed here - you cannot build up to the event that occurs halfway through and then barely explore the ramifications of it outside of half-formed lofty ideas about forgiveness. Instead of really delving into a broken family and giving us time with these characters, we're swept away by Lucas Hedges in a coming of age love interest role. It feels like the film has more empathy for Hedges than for the family at the center of this film, and by the end, Russell's character is (literally) crowded out of the frame in favor of Hedges and his dull, haphazardly rammed in subplot with his dad - not to mention Harrison is dropped and contrasted with the non-threatening white guy played by Hedges. So when you strip away all the needle drops and the "look at me" cinematography, you realize that this is an insultingly basic set of stories told under the pretense of being complex and challenging. Even the first half doesn't provide any compelling reasons for the central event occurring, and anything it alludes to is barely explored in the second half. It also does nothing character-wise to set up the second half, because these are not fully formed characters.
But maybe in the end, I suppose this surface level film's refusal to prioritize substance above style, its refusal to follow all of its characters throughout the entire film, its refusal to hold itself accountable for the decisions it makes and the situations it exploits, I suppose this is all still wholly reflective of the filmmaker behind the camera. Maybe this is actually his story after all.