James Clay // Film Critic
Time travel movies are pretty hard to nail. If the logic gets frustrating to unpack, the whole film feels like a gimmick. It’s even harder to pull off a psychedelic time travel movie mixed with a buddy comedy about the existential consequences of corporate greed. This all sounds like a lot to wrap your head around, but by some miracle Gille Klabin’s debut film feature, THE WAVE, swiftly destroys any pitfalls that come with a film this tricky navigate. Starring Justin Long (JEEPERS CREEPERS), in one of his more frenetic performance, and Donald Faison (SCRUBS), THE WAVE is crowd-pleasing fun that perfectly caters to Fantastic Fest. It’s a heady and entertaining film that’s the strangest trip since last year’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU.
THE WAVE opens with an ambivalent insurance lawyer named Frank (Long) who’s trying to get a promotion at his corporate firm. He works a case that will keep a $1 million life insurance policy from being cashed out. He’s not super thrilled about his station in life, but it pays the bills, and he does what he has to do to get ahead. His wife Cheryl (Sarah Minnich) may or may not crave material things over all others — a kind of reductive character trait for a film this sharp. In the end, they both want different things out of life.
On the night before his big board meeting, Frank gets dragged out with his colleague/bad influence best friend Jeff (Faison). They meet up with Natalie (Katia Winter) and Theresa (Sheila Vand) for some drinks, and the night rolls on with Frank and Theresa hitting it off over some cosmic conversations, a mysterious drug dealer (Tommy Flanagan) popping up, and a hallucinatory new experience that turns from good times to a blackout in a snap. Waking up in an empty house trashed from the night before, Frank recruits Jeff to help him retraces his steps on what happened the night before. What turns out to be a scramble to save his job, marriage, and finances could be the eye-opening experience Frank has been waiting for all along.
Carl W. Lucas’ snappy script plays with big ideas and time sliding tricks that cleverly come together in unsuspecting ways. There are times when it feels like the film has dropped a plot thread entirely, only to have it come back into play without warning. While Klabin’s direction brings in some vibrant visual aids that reveal a nice one-two punch of creative minds melding.
Justin Long has always been a reliable actor. He’s an affable screen presence and has been for decades. He’s done straightforward comedy stuff like DODGEBALL, to more out there swings like the underrated COMET and the much weirder TUSK. He fits right into the perplexed mania of his character quite well, most of the time he’s high and having to fire on all cylinders. At other times he’s meditating on life like’s he’s headed to Burning Man. While Faison uses that same charm he’s had since CLUELESS but turns it into a more lovably menacing screen presence. Their buddy dynamic works like two old friends who have outgrown their days of taking shots and doing coke until two o’clock in the morning. Too bad only one of them is ready to admit that.
THE WAVE is a time-traveling drug comedy, and Klabin has a lot of elements at play from managing logistics, maintaining a quirky comedic tone, and creating a visual language for the psychoactive scenes. While watching you can’t help but wonder if the film is going to wear out its welcome, but it never does and the ending sticks the landing. Don’t expect a grand masterpiece in modern filmmaking; take this film on its terms as a highly enjoyable independent film. It’s hard not to admire a movie that’s going to take this many risks while playing within familiar genre boundaries.
THE WAVE is never too eager to impress its audience. It creates a more inviting atmosphere that elaborates on some heady topics, while still never losing sight of being a goofy comedy. Overall, this a daring, sharp, and satisfying jolt to the system.