Anchored by two beautifully layered performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway, the debut feature from Lila Neugebauer, is a delicate showcase of grace for two lonely souls, seeking comfort in a stranger’s call. The script is, often, too patient with its pacing and lands on a note that, if not hackneyed, is a touch too cleanly wrapped up, but still there’s immense promise in Neugebauer’s direction. That said, this is Lawrence and, especially, Henry’s show, as the latter in particular demonstrates his considerable star prowess and unwavering magnetism.
The film and its stakes are addressed immediately, first encountering Lawrence’s Lynsey following her discharge after she experiences a traumatic brain injury during her tour in Afghanistan, forcing her to return home. In the opening scenes, we watch as she receives home care, rebuilding her ability to adjust to her daily life as she struggles with motor abilities and PTSD. Her want for redeployment is put into stark contrast with how we watch her battle internal injury in the opening moments, giving us the knowledge that she’d be putting herself and others and grave risk were she to return too soon.
That said, the bulk of the film takes place as she navigates being back at her childhood home, a tense relationship with her mother, and a shared history of her brother’s addictions tainting their memories. Her reprieve comes in the form of Tyree’s James, a mechanic who too has been living with immense, unspoken, trauma. Their relationship, their deep, instant connection, and their friendship breathe fresh life into a film whose opening scenes were swathed in gray. Her childhood home may be a place of unresolved hurt but her scenes with James come alive with color and potential for new life.
Written by Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders, the involvement of three different writers is apparent. While Causeway is relatively stark in terms of story – there are really only three characters – there are threads that are continually pulled on that suggest diverging interests in what story is being told. The ending is given a well-tied bow but some plots are underdeveloped, pockets of information that are given and unresolved for the sake of achieving a neat conclusion. Henry delivers an impactful, devastating speech about the want for companionship through the mundanities of life – having coffee together in the morning – and its effect is slightly diminished by the script’s need to reuse it for the sake of forced, roundabout closure.
The scenes between Lynsey and James are the strongest not just because of the two stars at the forefront but because it’s the element of the film best defined. Despite their short-lived friendship, there’s a tangible kinship shared that allows the pounding heart of the film to beat fiercely. There’s no wavering mystery of why they’d be drawn together, just a want to see more of how one just being in the other’s presence may offer momentary refuge from the instability, uncertainty, and grief of their day-to-day lives. Their friendship isn’t one built on the ability to escape from their pain, but one that understands the pain doesn’t go away and that healing is a process of time, effort, and the understanding that it may never dissipate at all.
Lawrence, unleashed from the smug scripts of David O’Russell, is never better, delivering her finest, most human performance to date in a role she all but disappears into. It’s not quite right to call Henry a revelation because anyone who has followed his career over the years from his role in Atlanta, to If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows, and more know that he is one of his generation’s brightest talents. Causeway simply amplifies that fact with a tender, broken, but resilient performance of a man trying to piece together his life following tragedy. From moments of quiet camaraderie with Lawrence to awkward shuffling at a bar to raw exposure while in one of the most vulnerable positions a character could be, he manages to sift through layers of character in each scene, truly captivating while speaking or silent.
Causeway’s failures are in script execution. The direction and visuals, performances, and score from Alex Somers all paint the picture of the story the film is trying to tell fully. It’s just that, by the film’s end, there are questions about the rapid development of the plot. It didn’t need more time but it needed a greater direction of the story to ultimately live up to the performances giving the movie its soul.
Causeway is available now on Apple TV+ Watch the trailer below.
Featured image courtesy of: A24/Apple TV+
Causeway - 6.5/10