Causeway movie review: Jennifer Lawrence revitalises her career with Apple’s moving drama about recovery
One of the world’s highest-paid actors has a new movie out this week, and you probably had no idea. Welcome to the world of Apple TV+, which might seem like a streaming service on the surface, but actually operates like a speakeasy. It counts among its members some of the biggest filmmakers on the planet, but restricts access to its own library as if it’s peddling bootlegged alcohol on the black market and is paranoid about being caught. Assuming, however, that you’ve managed to locate this secret society’s whereabouts, whisper a password at the door and gain access to view the exclusive content within its hallowed halls, you might discover that Apple‘s latest feature release, Causeway, lives up to the high standards that the streamer has set for itself.
It functions as both a return to roots and career reset for star Jennifer Lawrence, who broke onto the scene with a similarly quiet mood piece called Winter’s Bone back in 2010, but spent the next decade alternating between increasingly forgettable franchise films while seemingly being held captive in David O Russell’s basement. As her stature and bank balance grew, so did the sameness of her roles.
In the most memorable scene of Winter’s Bone, a film that made Lawrence one of the youngest nominees ever for the Best Actress Oscar, her teenage protagonist attempted to enlist in the Army as a last-ditch attempt to climb out of her poverty-stricken existence. She is turned away, partially because she doesn’t have parental consent, but also because she had the wrong intentions. At least in the eyes of the recruiter.
There is a sense that Lynsey, her character in Causeway, also joined the Army in an attempt to escape the sorrows of her past. Although it is never spelled out for our convenience, the film implies that Lynsey associates the house that she grew up in with the darkest period of her life. This was where she lived with her alcoholic mother, emotionally absent father, and addict brother, after all. No wonder she wanted out.
We first meet her when she has just returned home from Afghanistan, after having suffered a traumatic brain injury in an IED attack that she recounts with starting clarity some minutes later. The attack left Lynsey depressed, anxious, and unable to perform basic tasks such as brushing her teeth, or going to the toilet. But across just one montage, we are told that Lynsey had a remarkable recovery that empowered her with some level of independence, but still not enough to score the go-ahead for redeployment that she so desperately wants.
Debutante director Lila Neugebauer films the opening scenes with an unmoving camera, perhaps in an effort to mirror Lynsey’s lack of mobility. As Lynsey learns to walk again, the film appears to stretch its legs with her. A chance encounter introduces her to a mechanic named James, played by the excellent Bryan Tyree Henry. Like Lynsey, James is also struggling with past trauma. Over a couple of interactions in which they allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable, the two discover that to heal, they must lean on each other.
Causeway is a very deliberate attempt by Lawrence to rein it in, after she survived the minefield of franchise moviemaking that relies more heavily on explosions than expressions. As terrific as an early monologue in this film is, Lawrence is even better in some of the film’s smaller moments. Consider the scene in which Lynsey asks a pool cleaner if he can give her a job. Lawrence’s performance is brimming with defiant pride, and still so vulnerable.
The centrepiece of the film, however, is a scene in which she has an inevitable fight with James. As with most other scenes in the film, it’s all lit a bit too beautifully. But there’s tension under the surface. This metaphor plays out on screen as Lynsey and James fool around in a swimming pool, but quarreled when he pulls himself out in a huff. Now he has the emotional upper hand, and Lynsey is submerged in both water and guilt. But as strong as Lawrence is in this scene, it’s Henry’s near-silent performance that truly stands out. James mumbles his way through most of the movie, almost as if he has forgotten what it is like to speak to others. But as he lashes out at Lynsey for disrespecting him, his sharp words cut through the quiet night-time air.
Adult friendships aren’t at all like the ones we form as children. They’re filled with blank spaces and conscious omissions. Backstories are revealed not in dumps, but over time, in cautiously curated bursts. Nobody wants to do the same dance anymore, especially these two. There’s a sense that they’ve been burned before. And so, they volunteer new information about themselves only when they sense that their relationship has evolved to a level where certain walls can be dismantled. Lynsey and James aren’t merely forging a friendship with each other, but also with us.
Causeway isn’t the most comfortable experience, but it’s rewarding in its own quiet way — like spending an intense evening with an old confidante that you’d fallen out of touch with.
Director – Lila Neugebauer
Cast – Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry
Rating – 4/5