Causeway – We Hurt Together

Causeway stars Jennifer Lawrence in a film that sees the girl on fire?s return to the kind of acclaimed performances she was giving before she became a box office mainstay. Now in her return she has the producing power to select her own scripts and hire directors she wants to work with. Causeway marks the beginning of this new part of her career. Produced by Lawrence?s Excellent Cadaver with A24 producing and lending distribution right to Apple. The film sees Lawrence directed by first-time filmmaker Lila Neugebauer. Neugebauer like many recent debut directors has made a transition from theater directing. In the film Lawrence plays Lynsey, a U.S solider who following a traumatic brain injury while deployed in Afghanistan returns to her hometown of New Orleans. As she adjusts to what she hopes will be a temporary civilian?s life, she struggles to connect with anything she left behind. In her wanderings she finds a kindred spirit in James (Brian Tyree Henry). Together, Lynsey and James contemplate their pasts and the meaning of their trauma.

(From the Left): Producer Justine Polsky, Producer & Star Jennifer Lawrence, Star Brian Tyree Henry and Director Lila Neugebauer. Polsky and Lawrence are producing partners under Excellent Cadaver founded by Lawrence.

               While most premises like this would use flashbacks of Lynsey in Afghanistan experiencing the cruelties of war, Neugebauer is much more interested in the intimate experience of what occurs afterwards. For Lynsey that means finding a job to support her stay at home with her mother and then being cleared to leave. Lynsey?s returning home is a part of a vicious circle she was trying to escape. Her family has always been poor, but what she resents is how her family has faced their poverty. To her, going back to Afghanistan would be better for her fragile mental health than staying in a place she?s always resented. The same could be said of James whose mistakes weigh on him. Yet he feels he cannot escape out of loyalty to the family?s he?s lost in the city and the house they left him with.

               The movie is really about the seemingly unlikely friendship between the pair of Lynsey and James. But as they talk and open to one another it becomes clear the pain of their pasts shares many elements. Both actors portraying these characters give achingly realistic performances as the melodrama that even some of the best actors delve into is avoided to build immersion in this unique friendship. Then as these actors use their excellent chemistry to pull us into their world. They become vulnerable in such a realistic and heart wrenching way. There are a few brilliant acting scenes especially the one by the pool that show why Lawrence felt the need to tell this story. However, while these characters have unique traits this dual character study centered around Lawrence lacked true depth. While the film feels very real, it loses some of its entertainment power in its meandering. It doesn?t fully commit to being a film where two people talk about the complexities of their life and reveal their fascinating personalities through it. Nor does it focus on the characters journey by providing traditional intentions and obstacles. It has bits and pieces of both as the film mainly sees the two doing ordinary jobs and talking about their not so ordinary but very real-life experiences. Yet the film feels like its confident you?ll share in its protagonist desire back to Afghanistan for the whole runtime. Despite most of her most important choices being in her relationships with other people. In fact, her desire to be cleared almost requires her to do nothing and simply wait to get better and be cleared. However, she continues to prove to herself that she cannot be content where she is and makes choices that jeopardize her life at home and her chance to go back to the army.

Without Brian Tyree Henry this movie would be very empty. As their relationship holds the pieces of this film together. The coup de grace is the fallout and rekindling of their relationship. Without it you would follow a lonely woman without much agency who tries to control her life and makes crippling decisions as a result. It would be a hard film to follow.

The film is beautifully shot by Diego Garcia whose photography of suburban life are stunning. He utilizes simple settings like a city bus, a public basketball court, a local bar, and a modest underground pool to paint an enhanced impression of the beauty of the city these characters inhabit. This enhanced realism is especially important as Garcia uses the strong blues of the water to paint over the most melancholic discussions between our two leads. While the pacing of their relationship is a bit lackluster, the editing never disappoints. Robert Frazen and Lucian Johnston two very esteemed editors bring this together so smoothly. There is a clear purpose to every scene and every shot even if its not affecting. This is a rare indie film that held reshoots and the editors have made it work. However, if those reshoots were about changing the story than I would be worried about what the first cut of this film might have looked like. The writing, while directed, crafted, and acted beautifully did not contain the heart an intimate and somber piece like these needs.

Causeway harrows in its journey to see two people?s trauma reconcile towards healing. It?s a story that will likely appeal to everyone if they find it fascinating enough. But as the audience joins this journey will they become immersed in every step? Will they feel the emotions of these characters? I reckon some will and this film is worth checking out because it may connect with you on a personal level. But too much of the time this expertly crafted film finds its writing straying from the real power Lawrence and Tyree Henry have together. At only 96 minutes it feels like there should have been more to allows this films heart to change ours. Films that do not overstay their welcome are few and far between. However, in this case I think the film had more to explore with Lynsey and James as further depth in their characters would be brought to light as they shared more screentime. Neugebauer is certainly a director to look out for, but I wish she was more indulgent in her chance to work with Lawrence and Tyree Henry. I hope to see these two actors share the screen again and for them to continue to work with excellent auteurs. As FX?s Atlanta starring Tyree Henrycomes to an end, I hope he will keep getting roles like this that will make him a mainstay of the big screen. Causeway won?t be that film, but it was a wholesome endeavor, the type of which I hope we see more.

Causeway is available on Apple TV Plus & in Theaters starting on Friday, November 4th, 2022.

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