- Director: Lila Neugebauer
- Writers: Elizabeth Sanders, Luke Goebel, and Ottessa Moshfegh
- Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Emond, Jayne Houdyshell, Stephen McKinley Henderson
The recovering soldier genre is one that’s produced plenty of memorable films, and likely just as many – if not more – flops. It’s hard to say exactly where Causeway will ultimately land; much as it strays from the genre’s formula, it doesn’t contain enough drama to make it an instant classic.
If anything, the film serves as a spotlight for first-time feature director Lila Neugebauer, who gives the film a tangible sense of personality that helps to keep it afloat. The story follows Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) as she comes back home after an accident while serving in Afghanistan, and her struggles to adjust to life back home. It’s been too long since Lawrence has been the star of a film (we don’t have to talk about what she did last year), and it’s an interesting sign of where her career could be going forward, leading projects for up-and-coming filmmakers. She’s given the chance to show off her physical acting abilities early on when Lynsey is freshly returned to civilian life and going through physical therapy, and the rest of the film dives deeper into the emotional toil that resulted from her injury. Many sequences show Lynsey simply staring off into space, and Lawrence shows the gears slowly turning behind her weary eyes. Causeway may not ultimately go down as Lawrence’s best performance, but only because she has such a strong body of work in her young career to choose from.
Another way the film strays from tropes is in Lynsey’s mother Gloria (Linda Emond). Whereas most films would portray her as more broken or emotionally stunted than Lynsey, Gloria has enough warmth to understand why Lynsey would return to her New Orleans home. Speaking of New Orleans, it’s no accident that the film is set in the city, still mostly rebuilt after Katrina but still harboring some deep-seeded pain. It’s an understated element that the script (credited to Elizabeth Sanders, Luke Goebel, and Ottessa Moshfegh) doesn’t harp on too heavily.
The bulk of the film sees Lynsey striking up a platonic friendship with Brian Tyree Henry’s James, after they meet when she takes her truck into his repair shop. Lawrence and Henry have effortless chemistry together as the film shifts into hangout mode, and Henry gives perhaps his best film performance to date. Lynsey quickly sniffs out Henry’s amputated leg, which creates a unique bond between them, but the slow reveal of the source of Henry’s misfortune is one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments. It’s both a blessing and a curse that the script doesn’t introduce any contrived dramatic moments from here on out, but it could have used some more stakes to get the viewer more invested beyond a surface level. The lingering question throughout the film is whether Lynsey will find herself approved to be deployed again (the romantic angle is quashed early on when it’s revealed that Lynsey is gay). A skilled actor like Lawrence is able to play into Lynsey’s inherent drive to get back into action, no matter how ill-advised it may be.
Causeway is a quiet film, a film that takes its time and lets its characters (especially Lynsey) slowly marinate in their current situations. It leaves off on a place of uncertainty, which feels authentic to the subject matter at hand; no journey of recovery ever truly reaches a point of finality. The film doesn’t overplay its hand and it doesn’t overstay its welcome at just a hair over 92 minutes long. Apple’s budding catalog of streaming films, along with the coming onslaught of awards season glut, may make Causeway an unfortunate casualty of the year, but Neugebauer’s sensible and confident direction, along with noteworthy performances from Lawrence and Henry, make it a film worth recommending.
Causeway is screening in select theaters now and will be available to stream on Apple TV+ on November 4.
- Jennifer Lawrence is a proven commodity amongst the Academy, receiving four nominations and winning for Silver Linings Playbook. While her inclusion alone makes Causeway worth noticing for Academy members, the Best Actress race is too crowded (especially if Michelle Williams really does campaign as a Lead Actress for The Fabelmans) for her to place among the five.
- Brian Tyree Henry garnered plenty of praise when the film premiered at TIFF and, while I could see a world where he receives a nomination in Best Supporting Actor, I don’t know if there will be enough love to last him to nomination morning.