October 21st, 2022
STARRING: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, BRIAN TYREE HENRY, LINDA EMOND, STEPHEN MICKINLEY HENDERSON
DIRECTED BY: LILA NEUGEBAUER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
There is a sequence in Causeway where Jennifer Lawrence’s character is walking slowly, almost as if she’s pushing through sand, timid in her approach, because she’s not sure what could be around the corner of life. This is not stiff acting but the nature of her character, an Iraq war veteran, who is slowly trying to get back into the world in her recovery from a brain injury. In Lila Neugebauer’s debut feature, the reality of trauma is surrounding, and it is focused on two people with different life experiences, merging together and relating in their own pain. It’s a character driven story, in a narrative that feels structured like a broadway play, and asks the audience to find empathy in stories of people that are just like us. Causeway is a pebble dropped into the water of life and the ripples of one person’s experiences merge into the waves of another. The emotions in Causeway are palpable.
One of the major points of Causeway is how we cope in life and move on. Our lead character Lynsey (Lawrence) was an engineer, a soldier that placed herself in the fight to help others, and when an explosive detonated near her, it left her with a state of serious brain trauma. Now she is back home in New Orleans, living with her mother (Linda Emond), and struggling to adjust to civilian living. What becomes evident for her is that she needs to get back to something, visiting the doctor for rehab, getting a job cleaning pools, and getting back to full strength so she can do the one thing she knows: being a soldier. These ideas seem like rash decisions and she confronts them more when she meets a mechanic named James (Brian Tyree Henry), someone who has had his own share of life’s disappointments, and a person that can simmer in the pain together. The question becomes whether these two people can keep going or if they are going to let the world drag them down into oblivion.
On the surface, Causeway is a difficult story to promote, where the drama consists in learning about two fractured souls. What is not hard to praise is the performances from both Lawrence and Tyree Henry. Both are not giving the same performances, in fact Lawrence is the weaker of the two, but what they know how to do is let their faces do the talking. There’s a struggle inside that can’t be projected through the words, the screenplay written by Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders has nuance to it, but that comes full circle with the two actors. Director Lila Neugebauer also understands that these are people in boxes, confined into homes that look like prison cells, or placed in settings perfect for two, because the outside world is much too scary to be a part of. That’s where Neugebauer’s theater background comes into play, along with cinematographer Diego Garcia, they find a way to make the simple look complex, and lure the audience into thinking deeper about what a person has gone through.
It is the typical trappings of a movie that deals in the subject matter of veterans that Causeway avoids and because of it the narrative benefits. There’s no flashbacks to what happened to Lynsey and there’s no horrific detail of how James’ life was altered. It is left for the audience to picture, sit with, and understand why people struggle to go on. You can’t sugar coat it that Causeway is languid to a fault, where an injection of more energy would raise the film to a higher level of praise, but that’s not the movie here. It’s evident that this is Neugebauer’s first venture into making movies but what the director doesn’t do is try to compensate with tricks. These are conversations between two people, sitting in a pool, sitting on a bench, or talking in a car. We are flies on the wall to see if they can go on.
Causeway is an authentic character piece with two lovely performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry. The direction from Neugebauer elevates the material to an emotional state, placing the audience in the shoes of two people we all know exist. Any other movie would succumb to the need for more theatrics. This isn’t a sweeping epic like Born on the Fourth of July, a ra-ra America movie like American Sniper, or a tragedy such as The Deer Hunter. It’s closer to movies such as The 15:17 to Paris or Last Flag Flying where we connect with the human side of a person. The major difference is that Causeway connects with all people. There’s empathy at the center of Causeway and we all need to see it.
CAUSEWAY IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON APPLETV+ FRIDAY NOVEMBER 4TH, 2022.
Written by: Leo Brady