In your debut film you hardly expect to have such talents as Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry at your disposal, but this is the acting calibre director Lila Neugebauer has called on in her beautiful character drama Causeway. The film marks a return to the more low-key independent dramas Lawrence started her career with and she excels opposite Henry. The pair’s affable, profound chemistry paired with remarkably assured direction paints an emotionally intriguing tale of mental illness, friendship and trauma.
Causeway opens on Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) undergoing rehabilitation for an undisclosed injury. We see her relearning basic functions such as how to write whilst receiving therapy from a doctor. As Lynsey recovers from her injury, the narrative slowly reveals that she suffered a traumatic brain injury from a bomb explosion while serving in Afghanistan. She is soon sent back to her hometown of New Orleans to recover from her wounds both physical and psychological. Living with her mum, struggling to readjust to normal life and denied the redeployment she desires; Lynsey picks up a job cleaning pools. When her truck breaks down on the way to work, car mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry) enters her life and the duo quickly form a complex connection rooted in mutually torturous pasts.
While the story trope of a war veteran returning home and struggling to adapt is well-worn, Neugebauer breathes fresh life into the set up with this elegantly crafted story of two lost souls finding comfort in one another’s company. Neugebauer keeps proceedings unflashy and restrained, allowing the camera to linger on the central duo’s faces and allowing the audience room to breathe and take in the intimate emotions between these vivid characters. The pacing is perfect, the storytelling fully realised, at 92 minutes long the film never outstays its welcome despite its stillness.
Neugebauer’s sensitive direction places the central performers to the forefront, and what performances they are. Lawrence’s turn is nuanced and naturalistic while Henry is constantly engaging, the trauma he is hiding subtly painted on his face. Between them, their longing to connect is palpable as their chemistry fluctuates between friendship and the possibility of something more. Every aspect feels completely lived-in and when things come to a head between the pair, they both display remarkable pain and vulnerability.
Causeway sketches an eloquent portrait of trauma, healing and companionship that may be too understated for some. But those who embrace its considered rhythms will be rewarded with a powerfully affecting depiction of two broken people who find solace in each other.