It might be the best movie of the year, but that's not the point. 

By Isabel Jones
Nov 22, 2019 @ 10:00 am
Courtesy/InStyle.com

I spend more of my life than I’m comfortable admitting behind a screen. As both an entertainment editor and pop culture junkie, I see a lot of movies and TV shows that critics and audiences have deemed “good” (you can check the scratch-off poster on my living room wall), and perhaps even more that fall into the “bad” camp.

Trey Edward Shults’s Waves isn't just good — it's one of those rare projects that stays with you long after the credits roll. In fact, I’m still thinking about it, inspired by it, haunted by it, and listening to its soundtrack on repeat more than a month after I first saw it. 

Courtesy of A24

Like a lot of people, I’ve maintained my loyalty to teen-geared TV shows and movies long after the expiration of my student ID. Am I proud of watching Freeform’s Famous in Love (RIP) in its entirety? No (kind of?). I love the drama, but wouldn’t it be great if teen content could be both twisty and captivating while also feeling like an authentic and thoughtful portrayal of the generation? Well, it’s happening. 

A far cry from the mindless network content of yore, teen drama appears to be undergoing a pop culture renaissance of sorts. And OK, by “pop culture,” I mean A24. The subversive production company is behind two of the year’s most honest and viscerally striking teen-focused projects of the year: Euphoria and Waves

At both projects’ core is a story that, despite focusing primarily on teens, caters to all demographics. Watching Euphoria as a full-fledged adult doesn’t carry the same implicit “I’m-too-old-for-this” shame that bingeing Riverdale might. Why? Because the characters in Euphoria and Waves are dimensional in a way that’s typically reserved for their parents. Their plights aren’t trivialized or made ridiculous by the term “jingle-jangle.” These are young adults facing outsized pressures, and one can’t help but relate to the feeling of shouldering more than you can handle. But the true beauty is in the lack of condescension. Euphoria and Waves aren’t made for teens, but they don’t ostracize them either. 

Courtesy of A24

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From the outset, though, the most obvious parallel between the projects is “First Lady of A24” Alexa Demie. Demie, who fittingly happens to be 24 years old, stars in Euphoria as Maddy, an outwardly promiscuous cheerleader in a relationship with an emotionally and physically abusive football player named Nate (Jacob Elordi). In different hands, Maddy would be a character-devoid mean girl — the kind who viciously says things like “that bitch is going to pay” and exclusively wears ponytails. Euphoria’s take on this archetype is clearly in a position of self-discovery, her decisions based in a psychology we see play out through each episode. Maddy’s vulnerable, and that’s OK. 

Eddy Chen/HBO

In Waves, Demie plays Alexis, a teen engaged in a similarly dysfunctional relationship with a competitive wrestler named Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), and her performance is equally compelling. 

YouTube

It’s difficult to describe the emotional impact of Waves without divulging major plot points, which is why the Euphoria comparison is key. Both projects find ways to package difficult topics that are often shied away from onscreen in a way that looks and feels both beautiful and searing. Waves isn’t easy to watch, but there’s plenty of Frank Ocean to soothe your soul along the way.

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