“Driving a car shouldn’t be a victory.”
Theater and television director Lila Neugebauer enters the indie film space with her newest project, “Causeway.” After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, the movie will begin streaming on Apple TV+ on November 4th. Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry, “Causeway” is an intimate character study on the effects of trauma and a somber reflection of how wounded people can survive together.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Lynsey, a soldier who returns from a tour in Afghanistan after suffering a traumatic brain injury. At first confused about how to adjust to everyday life, Lynsey is forced to relearn the little things like how to brush her teeth and drive a car. When she arrives home to live with her mother in New Orleans, Lynsey is quick to get a job as a pool cleaner to earn some money and a bit of dignity as she strives to obtain a clean bill of health. Her main goal is to get the heck out of New Orleans and back to deployment as soon as humanly possible.
As Lynsey struggles to adjust to life back home with an alcoholic mother, she befriends a local mechanic named James (Brian Tyree Henry), who shares his own sense of deep-seated trauma. The two grow closer as “Causeway” progresses, hinting at a possibility of romantic entanglement until Lynsey divulges that she is a lesbian. With James blasé about Lynsey romantically, he is left to wallow in his loneliness in a big house. The two engage with one another about their traumas in the pools Lynsey cleans while her clients are out of town, and there is a deeper side to James than he initially lets on.
Despite the film’s overarching attempts to paint these two characters as love interests, “Causeway” relies heavily on two broken people trying to pick up the pieces of their individual lives. The lingering effects of trauma are center stage in this subdued independent feature. While very little is done to push the story along, the film explores the idea of having purpose and lost souls establishing a connection. Lynsey’s goal is to get back to the dangerous job she loves dearly, while James tries to wake up every morning not hating the life he’s currently engrossed in.
“Causeway” is a hauntingly gentle depiction of life after injury. Some injuries are physical, while others emotional, and Neugebauer does a splendid job of laying all the cards out on the depressing table. Lawrence returns to her indie roots with a complicated performance of a woman trying to understand where she fits in the world, having thought she figured it all out before she left for Afghanistan. The movie’s true standout is Brian Tyree Henry, in an emotionally raw and powerful portrayal of a broken man wading in a pool of despair.
However, “Causeway” tends to be sluggish in moments of awkwardness throughout the film, primarily due to a clear lack of definition in its motivations. It seems always to seek an answer to whether the real trauma can be found in a war zone or if it exists back home. Neugebauer does her best to work around a screenplay dedicated to this question, but it’s sometimes stagnant. Lawrence and Henry carry the film as its two leads, but there isn’t much to be found outside the principal characters’ interactions.
Expect to see Brian Tyree Henry’s name thrown around a lot during awards season, but that’s all that will be remembered from a deeply personal yet stale picture.
Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟1/2