Hannah Strong


Causeway – first-look review

Jennifer Lawrence plays an army veteran trying to adapt to civilian life in Lila Neugebauer's understated feature debut.

Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from a life-changing injury – one sustained while working for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Having had to relearn skills as essential as walking and writing her name, she’s made astounding progress, but Lynsey is unsatisfied, and more than anything just wants to know when she’ll be well enough to redeploy. Her job is her life, and the thought of spending any more time in her native New Orleans is particularly frustrating given the difficult relationship she has with her mother Gloria (Linda Emond).

This simple premise speaks to filmmaker Lila Neugebauer’s history as a theatre director, where she focused primarily on intimate, human dramas. The core of Causeway is the relationship that Lynsey forms with James (Brian Tyree Henry), a local mechanic with his own cross to bear. When Lynsey takes her truck into his shop to be fixed, the pair hit it off, and a friendship develops as James helps her readjust to civilian life.

For Jennifer Lawrence, it’s a role that has more in common with her star-making turn in Winter’s Bone than her more recent work, and feels similarly withholding. Lynsey plays her cards close to her chest, and the audience gets to know her at the same slow pace as James, who is similarly closed off following an accident involving his sister and nephew. Lawrence and Tyree Henry have good chemistry together and are charming to watch; in the hands of lesser actors, Lynsey and James might feel too distant from the audience.

It’s a fairly uncomplicated story, and the script by Elizabeth Sanders, Luke Goebel and Ottessa Mosfegh (of My Year of Rest and Relaxation fame), occasionally slips into cliche family drama territory as Lynsey reluctantly unpacks her difficult relationship with her mother. Yet there are some standout scenes, including one involving a deaf character, that demonstrate Causeway has a real warmth beneath its cool exterior.

Although the characters keep us at arms’ length, the bigger themes of wanting to escape one’s hometown and the crushing sense of defeat that comes with losing your vocation are ripe for exploration. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t dig further into the more interesting parts of Lynsey and James’ characters – such as Lynsey being a lesbian in the army, or James’ continual guilt surrounding his past – but Causeway is a promising debut for Neugebauer, and a fine showcase for Lawrence and Tyree Henry’s charm.

Published 12 Sep 2022

Tags: Brian Tyree Henry Jennifer Lawrence Lila Neugebauer

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