CAUSEWAY (APPLE TV+) (2022)
SYNOPSIS: Two unlikely strangers find solace in newfound friendship as they navigate their journey from grief to healing.
After flirting with blockbuster material in the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise, followed by prestige dramas such as ‘American Hustle’ and ‘mother!’, Jennifer Lawrence returns to her indie roots with a trauma drama that reminds us of the talent she demonstrated when she earned the first of her many Academy Award nominations at the age of 20. Indeed, those who recall her searing performance in the 2010 Debra Granik indie ‘Winter’s Bone’ will likely recognise the same stripped down, lack of sentimentality that she exhibits here, playing an army veteran on leave after a bomb from her tour of duty in Afghanistan leaves her with a traumatic brain injury.
We are introduced to Lawrence’s character Lynsey through a close-up shot of the back of her head. Just out of focus is an older woman (Jayne Houdyshell), whom we will find out soon is a care-taker meant to help with Lynsey’s recovery. Over an economical number of scenes, we see Lynsey regaining her motor skills, relearning basic tasks like brushing her teeth or holding a glass of water. As she regains her mental capacity, Lynsey starts to get frustrated and impatient with her current state of dependency, and it isn’t long before she requests to return to her hometown in New Orleans. And yet the first sign that things may not be as straightforward is when her mother fails to pick her up from the bus station, leaving Lynsey to make her way back to her family’s shabby home all by herself.
Over the course of the next one and a half hours, writer-director Lila Neugebauer reveals the life Lynsey had chosen to leave behind, including an unreliable mother (Linda Emond) hopelessly distracted in her own world and a brother (Russell Howard) in prison after messing up his life with drugs. But more importantly, we experience how she comes to terms with her emotional and psychological wounds through an unlikely bond she forges with a mechanic James (Brian Tylee Henry) she meets when she drives into an auto shop to have her broken-down pickup truck repaired.
It is in the connection between Lynsey and James that the screenplay from noted novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, co-written with newcomers Luke Goebel and Elizabeth Sanders, finds its purpose. Both are lost souls with demons of their own, but together, they bond over strolls in the sunshine, eating sno-balls, sneaking into the Garden District backyards where Lynsey cleans pools by day, and the simple activity of drinking a six-pack of beer in the park on a summer night. Their slow-and-low rapport is beautifully mounted, and the emphasis on realism means nothing ever comes across contrived or implausible.
Whilst we cannot deny that we had hoped the movie would let both actors explore their characters more thoroughly, Lawrence and Henry are an absolute joy to watch onscreen. Theirs is a warm, natural chemistry, as they complement each other with perfect understatement; in particular, Lawrence’s guarded stoicism and Henry’s soulful despondency frames this two-hander of damaged people finding mutual solace, and whereas James finds Lynsey rejoin the real world, Lynsey helps James open up and trust again. It is also notable that their relationship isn’t romantic in nature; as Lynsey informs James early on, when she does date, she doesn’t date men.
It is not often we find a film that is both restrained and fulfilling at the same time, so kudos to Lawrence and Henry for an honest, authentic and affecting tale of trauma and recovery. If your memory of Henry is as Lemon in ‘Bullet Train’ or Phastos in ‘The Eternals’, ‘Causeway’ will make you see him for the brilliant Yale drama graduate that he is. And of course, this coming home story is also a tremendous homecoming for Lawrence, who returns to the sort of unfussy, intimate role that she broke into Hollywood with. Shot in 2019 and snipped into shape over the course of the pandemic, ‘Causeway’ is perfect catharsis for those who need to know it is ok to move on.
Review by Gabriel Chong