“Causeway”, which was released on Apple TV+ early in this month, is a modest character drama which will engage and then touch you a bit more than expected. Although it is quite familiar in terms of story and characters, the movie gradually holds our attention as calmly focusing on the genuine human interactions between its damaged heroine and several other main characters around her, and, above all, it is also strongly anchored by another good performance from its wonderful lead actress.
Jennifer Lawrence, who quickly rose to stardom after her Oscar-nominated breakthrough turn in “Winter’s Bone” (2010), plays Lynsey, a female US military soldier who has been going through her difficult recuperation period since she got badly injured in her brain during her tour in Afghanistan. The early part of the film focuses on how she struggles to get better bit by bit under the care of a kind old caregiver played by Tony-winning actress Jayne Houdyshell, and Houdyshell’s warm supporting performance functions as a good counterpoint to Lawrence’s unadorned embodiment of her character’s physical and mental damages.
When it seems that she is recovered enough to leave, Lynsey returns to her hometown New Orleans, Louisiana. Although her hometown is the last place she wants to go for some personal reasons, she has no choice but to wait there while being ready for any chance of redeployment, and that means she will have to stay at her old family house where her mother Gloria, played Tony-nominated actress Linda Emond, is still living alone. Although Gloria is glad to for her daughter’s return, it does not take much time for us to sense the considerable estrangement between them, and we can easily guess the reason as observing how Gloria is more occupied with her current relationship with some guy (We never see him on the screen, by the way).
Anyway, Lynsey decides to be a little more active about her ongoing recuperation process. After a brief online job searching, she goes to a swimming pool cleaning service company, and she soon gets hired. While she does not get paid much, she is happy to do something outside, and that is certainly better than doing almost nothing inside her family house.
Meanwhile, she also happens to befriend James (Brian Tyree Henry), a local auto mechanic who helps her a bit shortly after her old truck had some problem. When Lynsey later asks more help from him, James kindly helps her without hesitation, and then they find themselves spending more time together as sensing loneliness from each other.
Now you may have some idea on what may happen next between them, but the screenplay by Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders wisely does not hurry itself in addition to avoiding clichés. Yes, Lynsey and James surely come to open themselves more to each other along the story, and James even suggests at one point that they should live together in a house where he lives alone at present, but this suggestion comes from kindness and compassion rather than romantic feeling. In case of Lynsey’s mother, she may not win the mother of the year award, but she does cares about her daughter nonetheless, and there is a nice intimate scene as she and her daughter become a little more honest about their flawed relationship.
During its last act, there eventually comes a point where our heroine comes to face not only her current problems but also some personal issues in the past, but the movie sticks to its calm and sensitive storytelling approach as before, and we are served with several small but undeniably touching moments to be appreciated. When the camera closely looks at our heroine’s face around the end of the film, we can feel how she feels a bit better than before, and that is why the following last shot leaves considerable impression on us.
Of course, the movie depends a lot on Lawrence’s presence and talent, and she demonstrates here that she has not lost any of her acting talent despite her recent brief break. Never showing off her character’s damaged status, she subtly conveys to us her character’s inner thoughts and feelings, and it is really engaging to see how she still can be as natural and unaffected as she did in “Winter’s Bone”, which is still at the top of her acting achievement list in my inconsequential opinion.
Furthermore, Lawrence is supported well by several recognizable character performers including Emond and Houdyshell. Bryan Tyree Henry, who has never disappointed us since his Emmy-nominated supporting turn in TV comedy series “Atlanta”, is simply wonderful as his character slowly and tentatively approaches closer to Lawrence’s character, and I enjoy their effortless interactions throughout the film. Stephen McKinley Henderson, a Tony-nominated actor who has been more notable thanks to his stellar recent supporting performances in “Fences” (2016) and “Lady Bird” (2017), is also fine as Linsey’s caring doctor, and Russell Harvard, a deaf actor who was memorable in his guest performance in the first season of TV drama series “Fargo”, shines in his single crucial scene with Lawrence later in the story.
In conclusion, “Causeway”, which is incidentally the first feature film of Lila Neugebauer, did its job as much as it can with its plain but intimate character drama, and the overall result is much better than “Raymond & Ray” (2022), another recent character drama from Apple TV+. While I came to almost nothing in case of the latter, the former let me get to know and understand its main characters more than expected, and that is certainly enough for recommendation.