Causeway Review

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Winter’s Bone is a dark and brutal movie about poverty and family. It was also the breakthrough role for Jennifer Lawrence so when she returned to indie film with Causeway, I had high hopes. While it didn’t quite live up to her earlier work in terms of richness or suspense; this film still has some tough edges that show off what a great actress Lawrence can be – even though she only appears in two films every three years or so.

Lynsey (Lawrence) is an army vet who’s taken leave after being injured by a bomb. The opening scenes show her alone, struggling to recover from brain trauma under the watchful eye of Jayne Houdyshell’s caregiver character – which is interesting because Houdyshell just came off stealing scenes left and right in The Humans & Only Murders In The Building (she continues that streak here).

The first-time feature director Lila Neugebauer does a lot of theater, and there’s a certain pared-down naturalism at play in these early scenes: Lynsey learning how to walk again, relearning coordination; memory exercises. Lots of watching paint dry type stuff… but it works. The filmmaking throughout is spare and almost cold — time jumps are implied through editing cuts; character progression unfolds slowly through plot patches. Lawrence plays it like an ex-soldier would: quiet, disciplined; wearing nothing fancier than plain pantsuits with invisible emotional Kevlar underneath.

Leaving what we assume is a medical facility, Lynsey returns to New Orleans — her childhood home in tatters with bad memories (alcoholic mother, addict brother). Here she meets Brian Tyree Henry as James, a kind-hearted car mechanic. Henry matches her blow for blow here; he’s likeable as hell but you know there’s pain hiding behind those eyes because you’ve seen If Beale Street Could Talk.

They’re different people but they gravitate towards each other — this is an understated indie movie; of course they’re both lost souls who find each other. And they’re both fucked up people who can tell that the other person has been through some shit so they don’t need to talk about it. They go on what look like dates, eat burgers, have private pool parties – but there’s never any romance (until there is).

It’s all very beautifully done, and the realistic bent means nothing ever feels too contrived or over-the-top. But it’s also so restrained in terms of filmmaking, and just… not tense enough as a drama. Who are these people? What do we know about them aside from their traumas? The script (by Elizabeth Sanders & Luke Goebel & Ottessa Moshfegh) has an idea, but the onion has been peeled back one layer too many and so I’m not sure what that idea ultimately amounts to. Thankfully Lawrence and Henry are such powerful performers they fill in a lot of blanks — just not all of them.

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