Jennifer Lawrence leads trauma drama Causeway by channeling her emotional turns in movies like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This time around, Lawrence plays a damaged vet who has returned from Afghanistan with a fresh brain injury, and an aimless, vacant prospect on life as she recovers cognitively and emotionally. One would anticipate Lawrence delivering a powerhouse performance—while she certainly does, the film around her lacks urgency or stakes. Envision one’s stereotypical festival drama, and that is exactly what Causeway delivers.
Transitioning back to normalcy after a traumatic brain injury can be difficult, and no one understands this more than Lynsey (Lawrence). An explosion when in the field to work on a dam resulted in a brain bleed, and now even trivial tasks like holding a toothbrush, washing oneself, or remembering names are a struggle. As the film opens, Lynsey is wheeled away to the service of an aide. Even as the helpful woman tends to Lynsey’s every need without a single complaint, Lynsey longs to re-deploy. How bad must her home life be that Lynsey wants back into a service that nearly killed her?
It turns out, the answer is: quite bad. Her mother is a drunken mess who mixes up the day she was supposed to pick up Lynsey, claiming that she has planned a grand homecoming for her without any follow through. Her brother is behind bars, an alleged junkie who left a path of destruction in his wake. Their New Orleans home is in a particularly sad state of disrepair. Imagine coming home from war to an empty freezer, a huge sink full of dirty dishes, and a sad, grimy pool… it is enough to drive anyone up a wall.
Anxious to keep herself occupied as she recovers, Lynsey plunges herself headfirst into temporary work as a pool cleaner. This monotonous vocation should at least pass the time until Lynsey can convince a doctor to officially sign off on her return to the military. However, when Lynsey’s truck breaks down, she meets kindly mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry, Child’s Play, The Woman in the Window), and they share a connection over their traumas. James lost a leg in a horrifying car accident, and sees something special in Lynsey. Whether just a shoulder to cry on, a vital platonic friendship, or something more, Lynsey and James change each other irrevocably over the course of the film.
As sweet as this may sound, there isn’t a whole lot more to the plot. It is all particularly threadbare, held together solely by the raw acting talent on display. Lawrence and Henry do not share much genuine chemistry, making their union a questionable one. A moment near the middle when Lynsey claims to be a lesbian so that her standing with James is laid plain is never mentioned again, and seemed an odd detail to throw in.
While the setting of New Orleans is ample territory for a particular kind of vibe, director Lila Neugebauer fails to do anything exciting with it. The lush cinematography and gorgeous recurring blue aesthetic can only sustain itself for so long before becoming stale. Causeway brings together two actors at the top of their game, before wasting them on a simplistic premise complete with a predictable ending. Jennifer Lawrence gives it her all nevertheless. In one of the few highlights, Lynsey goes to visit her brother, Justin (Russell Harvard), in prison—it is a beautiful and rare glimpse into her familial trappings. While Causeway is far from being a terrible film, I did expect better from A24, and the talent involved.
Causeway finds a new lease on life when it debuts in theaters and streaming on Apple TV on Friday, November 4th.