Gentle and subtle, almost to a fault, Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway presents a quiet view of friendship and how people deal with trauma in their own ways, led by a great performance from Jennifer Lawrence.
Lawrence stars as Lynsey, a member of the US Army Corps of Engineers returning from Afghanistan. Lynsey was involved in an explosion which left her with a traumatic brain injury. Following a tough rehab stint with a live-in nurse Sharon (Jayne Houdyshell), Lynsey returns to her hometown of New Orleans.
Looking for something quiet to fill the time, Lynsey begins to clean pools. When her mother’s car breaks down, she meets kindly mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry), with whom she strikes up a friendship. Lynsey attempts to navigate her new life while attempting to recover enough to return to active duty, if she is ready and if it’s what she really wants.
Despite Lynsey being a member of the military coming back from an injury, the film doesn’t have any comment to make about the war or soldiers in general. This is not a story meant to preach about the horrors of war or how the system forgets about soldiers back in the real world. If that is happening in this story, it’s not the story Neugebauer wants to tell. This is about a singular person dealing with trauma in their own way without the glitz and glamour of manufactured drama or preachiness.
More than anything, this is a story about friendship. It feels natural to have two single attractive people come together in sexual ways, but that’s not what either Lynsey or James needs. They rely on each other for comfort and interaction, allowing themselves to be vulnerable in ways the rest of the world doesn’t or can’t see. Naturally, their love for each other segues into anger, but it comes from a place of vulnerability.
Lawrence reminds the world why they fell in love with her in the first place. Her performance is unpretentious and unflashy; just what the film needs. She is a quiet presence, though her frustration with her trauma occasionally bubbles to the surface in interesting ways. Henry is equally subtle and wonderful. His pairing with Lawrence doesn’t look like a fit on paper, but the pair play of each other in complimentary ways. James’ trauma has already been dealt with and absorbed, while Lynsey’s is still in the phase of denial. The pair deliver more than the script gives them.
Houdyshell doesn’t stick around long, but she makes for quite the impact when she is there. The same goes for Stephen McKinley Henderson as Lynsey’s neurologist. Both actors run as a realistic counter-programming to the single-mindedness of Lynsey’s decisions, and their gentle nature matches the film’s tone. Russell Havard also has a standout scene as Lysney’s brother.
Neugebauer allows each scene to linger without the usual rush of waiting for the next line or action. Each action isn’t deemed to be big and important for the world, just for the character in question. The director doesn’t resort to cheap tricks or exploitation dwelling on the misery or difficulties of disabilities. Instead, the characters deal with their trauma and disabilities in their own way and move forward with their lives.
Quietly affirming and well-performed, Causeway won’t blow any doors off, but it does provide a gentle look at adjusting to life post-trauma. More than anything, it’s nice to see Jennifer Lawrence back.
Causeway streams on AppleTV+ on Friday, November 4th