Causeway follows the story of Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence), a U.S. soldier who suffered a brain injury while serving overseas in Afghanistan and her struggle for recovery now that she is back on U.S. soil. She is determined to heal and redeploy back to Afghanistan, but when she encounters James (Brian Tyree Henry), she finally meets a genuine friend and someone who might have been dealt a worse hand than she was. Causeway harkens back to Lawrence’s indie roots and is Henry’s best film role in the last few years. The film also stars Jayne Houdyshell, Linda Emond, and Stephen McKinley Henderson. Additionally, this is Lila Neugebauer’s film directorial debut. Causeway was written by Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Elizabeth Sanders.
In such a short film with a simple premise, the key to the film’s success was in the performances of Lawrence and Henry. Lynsey is tough and driven, and she hates that she struggles with mundane things now that she is recovering from her brain injury. She doesn’t think that driving a car should be a victory. Lawrence’s ability to show Lynsey’s determination while also holding back all that internalized frustration is exceptional. Pairing nicely with Lawrence’s nuanced performance is Henry’s kind and empathetic one. From the instant we meet James he’s charming and funny, but he can tell quickly that Lynsey has experienced trauma, and he is sensitive in the way he speaks to her. James has a dark history, too, and they find solace together in their complicated friendship. Brian Tyree Henry has a screen presence that is so warm and inviting, and he’s my favorite performance in the film. I would love to see him sneak into the awards race.
I have been looking forward to this movie in particular, for several reasons. First, these two stars are so phenomenally talented and I couldn’t wait to see how they played off each other. Second, it is a 90-minute drama. In a world where movie runtimes have lengthened and comedy is the primary genre relegated to 90 minutes, I was excited to see this combination. In the first section of the movie, when Lynsey is living with a caretaker and is at the worst part of her recovery, she is very quiet and meditative, and understandably so. When she transitions back to her childhood home in New Orleans and meets James, there are more moments of Lynsey alone that I didn’t fully appreciate on the first watch. This can be good because it gives the audience a window into her psyche, but I was just so excited to watch the best part of the film, which is the friendship between Lynsey and James. In a way, the movie feels too short because these two have such good chemistry and I wanted to see more of it! This story is the barest bones it could be and still work. Even just a few more scenes would have built up this relationship even more and would have made the story that much more powerful.
Despite that slight nitpick, I found many things enjoyable, including how everything was shot on location. New Orleans has such a personality to it, and Lawrence and Henry felt like true natives. I could watch them get snowballs, ride around, and listen to music all day. Also, the creative decisions made are practically invisible but are highly effective. The camera is so still, and when it does move, it is purposeful and smooth, a perfect mirror to Lynsey’s controlled behavior. The score, when it’s used, is simple but beautiful, which reminds me of how hard these two are fighting to find happiness in the little things in life. Finally, the audience isn’t spoon-fed the story; all the information we need about the characters comes out organically.
Causeway is a pure and simple story of two characters who have been through intense trauma and the different ways they cope with their experiences. Jennifer Lawrence’s first dip into the dual threat of acting and producing is a major success. If this film is any indication of her eye for projects, then I expect to see wonderful things from her production company, Excellent Cadaver. And once again, it has to be reiterated that Brian Tyree Henry is a wonderful talent and is great in this film. Hopefully, his Gotham Independent Film Award nomination can be an indicator of more attention to come.
Causeway premiers on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 4th.