In the dark: Leader movie reviews

‘The Wave’ is a head trip with a lot on its mind

Posted 3/11/20

I’m taking a detour to review a neat little film that came and went with hardly anyone noticing not too long ago, but is still available to stream online.

Gille Klabin’s “The …

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In the dark: Leader movie reviews

‘The Wave’ is a head trip with a lot on its mind

Posted

I’m taking a detour to review a neat little film that came and went with hardly anyone noticing not too long ago, but is still available to stream online.

Gille Klabin’s “The Wave” has a similar vibe to Don Coscarelli’s 2012 “John Dies at the End,” only with a serene spirituality in place of the earlier film’s sardonic body horror.

While “John Dies at the End” is unquestionably the better film, “The Wave” actually turns surprisingly sober, in between its hallucinogenic rushes, by subverting the conventions of the stoner bro comedy that it sells itself as at its outset.

At 41 years old, Justin Long has been America’s oldest onscreen teen for years, spending decades playing variants of the same smart-aleck kid who’s just clever enough to get in well over his head, so it’s satisfying to see him cast as a ruthlessly soulless adult who’s mostly succeeded at quashing his own conscience, if not his self-awareness, to successfully climb the corporate ladder.

The sermonizing against materialism and economic victim-blaming in “The Wave” is—as Bob Belcher observed of Tabitha Johansson’s songs in “Bob’s Burgers”—not subtle, as Long’s Frank employs his amoral legal skills to deny a life insurance payout to the family of a dead firefighter.

It is welcome nonetheless, for condemning the hypocrisy of such a self-serving and callously indifferent attitude, as we see Frank going out to celebrate his success that evening with his friend and coworker Jeff (Donald Faison, essentially playing a scumbag version of Turk from “Scrubs”), during which Frank glibly condemns the financially less-fortunate for engaging in the same irresponsible spending habits he gets away with simply because he already has more money.

The left turn comes when Frank and Jeff hook up with two girls during their bar- and party-hopping, and the one who catches Frank’s eye, Theresa (Sheila Vand), actually calls him out for trying to sell her on a dismissively cynical worldview she correctly senses he doesn’t fully buy himself.

While Long imbues Frank with more likability than the character arguably deserves, it’s Vand who’s easily the most luminous performer in this film.

Vand was the title character in Ana Lily Amirpour’s 2014 Iranian vampire western film, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” and while I wish she had more onscreen time in “The Wave,” the reason she doesn’t is also one of the reasons “The Wave” is not the film you might think it is.

“The Wave” sets up Frank and Theresa like Jeff Daniels’ Charles and Melanie Griffith’s Lulu in Jonathan Demme’s 1986 “Something Wild,” the strait-laced suit who needs a wake-up call from the free-spirited sexy stranger he meets out of the blue.

But when Frank and Lulu take a hit of a mysterious drug from a philosophical dealer named Aeolus (Tommy Flanagan, shamelessly exploiting his whispery Scottish voice to come across like a slightly sleazy Yoda), everything in Frank’s life suddenly goes sideways as he starts skipping forward in time, and ultimately, he learns a hard lesson about projecting his emotional needs onto the manic pixie dream girl he imagines Theresa to be.

This lack of linear chronology, coupled with the visual and verbal clues sprinkled throughout the film, make “The Wave” more rewarding on repeat viewings, and while it ties up its loose threads in perhaps an overly tidy fashion, it won’t be the wrap-up you were expecting even just a few minutes before it finally happens.

This is not a perfect film, but it is a worthwhile one, and you can rent it on Amazon.

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