Did anyone else have one of those sage stoner friends in college who would constantly be super out of it but occasionally drop giant nuggets of wisdom? I feel like that friend made this movie. The Wave is charming, cheesy, and wild in all the ways a B-level sci-fi adventure should be. Though it doesn’t quite manage the nuance necessary for its more cerebral themes, it’s still a hell of a ride along the way.

Riding The Wave

The movie opens with a voice-over from its protagonist, Frank, played by Justin Long: “Have you ever woken up from a dream so real that for a moment you can’t remember where you are. This is a lot like that.” Right away, we know this movie is going to be something big. Whether or not it gets there is up for interpretation. Frank is the “typical cold, faceless” lawyer at a nondescript insurance company. It’s his big day! He just found a major discrepancy that could save the company millions. Though we don’t know how just yet.

Frank holds a glass while Jeff speaks to him conspiratorially from the side.
Epic Pictures

His best friend Jeff, played by Donald Faison, urges him to go out and celebrate. But Frank is far too deeply entrenched in upper-middle-class mediocrity for such an excursion. He makes up some lame excuses about his wife always getting Chinese food for them on Tuesdays. Next thing we know he’s at home watching his overpriced 4K TV and arguing with his spouse about a new dress she “needs.” After his wife stomps off to bed, Frank is suddenly desperate for adventure. So he takes Jeff up on his offer.

A drug dealer holds a dropper with a hallucinogen while two women are holding him on either side
Epic Pictures

Fast forward twelve hours or so and Jeff has met a stunning and enigmatic young woman, taken a mystery hallucinogen from an Irishman in a fuzzy coat, lost his wallet, and woken up with no idea of where he is. The rest of the movie is Frank attempting to put together the remaining pieces of his now kaleidoscopic mind. With the guidance of his manic pixie dream girl turned spirit guide from the night before, Frank somehow has to placate his screaming wife, go to work like nothing is wrong, and, mainly, figure out how the hell to stop tripping.


In a film that’s trying to contrast the doldrums of everyday corporate life with a high-minded psychedelic journey towards the meaning of life, the real-life parts do actually need to feel real. And none of these do. The office dynamics, the marriage drama, and the humdrum of Frank’s day-to-day life all feel empty. And not in the way they should. The Wave can be trippy, but it can’t really do anything else. The listlessness of the non-psychedelic elements of this film is largely due to the lack of characterization for anyone other than Frank and the heavy-handed morality lessons he incurs.

Natalie and Jeff sit in the front seat of a car staring outward while Frank sits in the middle in the back.
Epic Pictures

Much of the dialogue just feels like it exists to forward the plot or themes with little deeper meaning beyond the surface level philosophical musings of certain characters. And those musings are a little too close to hitting the nail on the head to feel genuine. This movie would have been better off if it had left the theorizing to actual philosophers. The narrative is entertaining enough and juggles some messy timelines with grace, but without lively dialogue or meaningful context to bring it to life, it falls flat.

This Movie Knows How To Trip

The one person that could bring this movie to life is Justin Long. He is a treasure. At the start, he played a bit against type, what with the whole serious lawyer thing. But thankfully his hapless goofball persona unmistakably comes out once the drugs kick in. Whether it be the directing or the casting or the glow of psychedelia, at least he really works. In many ways, visually in particular, once the psychedelic journey gets going, this movie really finds its footing.

Frank (Justin Long) sits in a large chair in the desert facing a woman in an ethereal flowing dress.
Epic Pictures

The best part of this film is when all sense of reality goes out of the window, and we’re allowed to have some fun. The cinematography and special effects really shine. The final product definitely reads like a low budget in a way that doesn’t always work, but for the most part, it manages to skirt by with the help of a lot of creative ingenuity. The effects may not be the most high-tech, but a deft hand can do a lot with a little. And that’s certainly the case here. Something about these effects just feels so true to what the character is experiencing at any given moment. It really is a trip.

Should You Watch This Movie?

The Wave is in no way perfect. Most of the side characters exist only to forward the plot. Frank’s wife is essentially a cardboard cut out with a loud, angry voice box that you can’t turn off. The philosophical leanings of the film come across as extremely didactic. With some strange indie movie magic, this film is far greater than the sum of its parts. It will make you feel like you took the same hallucinogen that Frank did but with a much better trip.

You may not buy into the philosophies, the background characters, or the humdrum dialogue, and yet despite all of this film’s technical flaws, it somehow manages to be a hell of a lot of fun. The Wave had an idea and went for it with such earnestness that one could not help but be charmed. With a lot more nuanced, it could have been a truly amazing film. As it is, it’s just good. But it is a good time that’s worth having.

The Wave Is A Psychedelic Romp Bogged Down By Philosophy Lessons
Justin Long somehow manages to make this character, who should be a boring jerk, oddly charming
Special effects are a bit cooky and low budget, but that just makes them all the more fun
Villains are all a blast in a very cheesy way
Some solid twists and turns to the plot
Overly obvious and didactic themes
Weak side characters
Stop making wives exist just to scream at their husbands for audience sympathy or forwarding the plot
Writing lacks subtlety