Causeway (2022)

“Smoking is linked to lung cancer. Extreme trauma is linked to PTSD and depression. In fact, the link is stronger.”

Arriving quietly this past week among a number of potential award season contenders on Apple TV Plus is Causeway. I say quietly because every once and a while, a streaming service won’t put too much marketing behind their new releases for viewers to stream and then the film enters a sort of purgatory until nominations are reveled. Netflix is notorious for zero promotion for nearly half their release schedule however so is Apple. And since its inception, the streaming service has built up their library of quality originals that are desperate for more eyes to watch them.

In her directorial feature film debut, Lila Neugebauer adds another quality entry into the expanding library Apple has curated. Causeway in its simplicity and toned-down themes is astoundingly impactful in the manner of how these themes are addressed. Written by the trio of Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders, the screenplay starts, and stays grounded to the core of a person’s humanity. Its main theme involves trauma and how trauma affects people differently. There are many signs – from anxiety and depression to drugs and alcoholism. Causeway mainly focuses on those effects respectively.

At the center of those effects are two people – Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) and James (Brian Tyree Henry). Two complete strangers meeting because of a broken-down truck in which James, a mechanic, repairs the classic (his words) for her. Getting to that meeting however starts with Lynsey, in the care of a nurse after what is learned to be an accident overseas in Afghanistan. Lynsey is a United States soldier on tour when she becomes severely wounded and has to work her way back to normal and readjust herself to civilian life. For Lynsey, civilian life is in New Orleans, where after her rehab, she moves in temporarily with her mom Gloria (Linda Emond).

Coming off her last performance in the divisive Don’t Look Up, Lawrence is way more subdued and tame – going back to the roots of what made her the household name before the franchises made the spotlight at little too bright for her. Lawrence is excellent in her quiet determination. She has a main path, layed out and written plainly. Nothing anyone can say will stop Lynsey from achieving her goal until she meets James. Opposite Lawrence is Brian Tyree Henry, who cannot deliver a bad performance if he tried. Since breaking out in Atlanta, Henry’s talent is a fine addition with a gruff exterior and an expression that sees past any façade. James opposite Lynsey has trauma he faces every day – a constant reminder that once he looks at his body, the memories come flooding back.

Without the strength of the screenplay, the performances may fall on deaf ears but it’s the layers of complexities added to the characters that make the message of trauma loud and clear – coming in all shapes and sizes. When we first meet the two unlikely friends who’s bond rapidly takes off, their dimensions are peppered are peppered in and as the story progresses, more information is given that paints a more complete picture.  

Coming in at 92 minutes Causeway features a tight grip and a steady pace to its narrative. Everyday life and the relationships that come with it are written into the foreground. And as Lynsey and James get to know each other more, their friendship becomes the main draw. It doesn’t happen overnight but with the progression of time, both characters begin to let their guards down for the tough exteriors to be exposed to who they really are. Both Lynsey and James are damaged, as we all are but they have each other to hold accountable and accept the flaws of the past or present.

For a majority of the 92 minutes, Lynsey and James are at the forefront. Going about their days, hanging out, getting a bite to eat or sneaking into someone’s pool. It’s the little things that are written into their everyday lives that magnify the deeper meaning of the film. It doesn’t take long for the point to be made either – Lila Neugebauer has total control of her two movie stars that bring their A-game, further reminding everyone of their talent and scree presence. Emotionally, Causeway will resonate with a wide group of people, almost everyone who has faced some sort of adversity or hardship and struggles everyday with the healing process can relate.

About 3 quarters of the way through, a new element surrounding Lynsey and her brother Justin (Russell Harvard) that has been alluded to is added to the already strong foundation that is unexpected but injects more dimension into the characters. A moment that lasts for a few moments, doesn’t overstay its welcome but adds to the poignancy of the story. Brian Tyree Henry continues to prove his versatility in large doses but its Jennifer Lawrence that reintroduces the world to what made her the star she is today.

Screenplay By: Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel & Elizabeth Sanders

Directed By: Lila Neugebauer

Music By: Alex Somers

Cinematography: Diego García

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Emond, Jayne Houdyshell, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Harvard

Where to Watch: Apple TV +

Release Date: Nov 4, 2022

Running Time: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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