In “Causeway,” the new drama directed by Lila Neugebauer, Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence plays Lynsey, a military engineer who has returned to the States from Afghanistan with a debilitating brain injury after an IED explosion. It’s a painful and slow recovery as she relearns to walk and re-trains her memory, aided by a chatty but tender caretaker (Jayne Houdyshell). But when she returns home to New Orleans she has to face memories even more aching and formative than those she had in service: a reckoning with her childhood.

Staying with her mother (Linda Emond), with whom she shares a tense relationship, all Lynsey wants to do is return to her work as an engineer. Her doctor (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is wary, and so in the meantime, she gets a job cleaning pools. When her truck breaks down she meets James Aucoin (Brian Tyree Henry), who works at the auto repair shop and offers her a ride home. Slowly they start to rely on each other for company and solace. James, it turns out, is also suppressing his own past trauma. These two damaged souls’ budding friendship forms the center and the heart of Neugebauer’s debut feature—a quiet but devastating, and ultimately uplifting, story about coming to terms and moving forward.

What We Thought:

When we all walked out of the theater last night someone called Causeway a “nice” film and you know what, that’s the perfect way to describe it. It’s not going to wow too many people nor do I see it landing any big award nominations, but it’s a nice, little movie. The performances are solid, the location makes sense and first time feature director Lila Neugebauer does a strong enough job that the film will get her more opportunities.

Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman, who while with the Army Corps of Engineers, is an explosion in Afghanistan and is sent home to rehab and recover. She does the one thing she never wanted to do, move back in with her mother. She lands a job cleaning pools and meets Brian Tyree Henry’s character who is fixing her truck. They bond over trauma while she struggles to get better both mentally and physically.

It’s that trauma that will get the audience to relate to the characters. If you’ve been through something medically difficult or even just struggled in life, the characters appear honest and genuine. Sure most of us have never been in an explosion during war, but Lawrence’s performance is relatable. She takes handfuls of meds, struggles to remember things, has difficulties focusing and holding on to things at times. I’ve been there. Brian Tyree Henry’s struggle is more mental. He was in an accident which caused him physical harm, but it’s the loss occurred in that accident that brings him mental anguish. We’ve all experienced loss, we all should be able to understand where he’s coming from. It’s also his giant teddy bear persona that makes him easy to root for in everything we see him in.

Lila Neugebauer makes her feature directorial debut here and overall does a bang up job. She captures the city’s life and her characters’ struggles with ease and paints a relatable picture. Her stage background definitely shows through with the way their dialogue is portrayed with intimate moments and movements. I expect her to get a lot of praise for the film and studios will come calling.

Causeway is a solid film with some flaws. I think Lawrence’s trauma shines through, but her war background doesn’t. Those who see war have different mannerisms than the rest of us and you don’t quite see those mannerisms in the film. Her eyes would always be aware of her environment and her body language would be different. That’s not a slight on Lawrence, I just think the movie could have used a military consultant that would have highlighted what I’m talking about. I think the ending might bother some viewers as well, but I don’t mind open endings. There are some scenes and plot points that just seem unnecessary to the film in general, but I can look past them because the performances and vibe of the movie works for me.



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