TIFF has no shortage of character deep-dives, and Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway was one of them.
The story follows Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) who returns home after suffering brain and body injuries caused by a vehicle explosion while serving in Afghanistan. After painstaking rehab, she returns home to New Orleans to live with her mother (Linda Emond), cleaning pools while she awaits the green light to redeploy. During her visit, she befriends James (Brian Tyree Henry), a car mechanic. Their relationship goes from friendship to something more complicated as Lynsey and James grapple with their inner trauma, while trying to keep their life together.
Complex doesn’t begin to describe Causeway.
It goes without saying, the performances in Causeway are brilliant. Both Lawrence and Henry are seasoned performers who have a knack of embracing their characters.
Trauma is difficult to capture, especially war trauma. Being respectful and representative of what armed forces go through is a tough balancing act, one that I think both the films creative team and its performers do very well.
Lawrence does Lynsey justice by capturing her gritty, fractured soul. Even in stillness and silence Lawrence was able to communicate how empty she felt, broken beyond a point that she herself doesn’t understand. Neugebauer’s sophisticated direction paired with Diego Garcia’s expert cinematography captures the very essence of Lynsey and her hollow aura. The one part of Lawrence’s performance that I came to respect is her portrayal of Lynsey’s mental distress and anxiety as she faced obstacles to her rehabilitation. Overperforming ruins the authenticity of the emotions, something Lawrence does not do. Because she keeps it together, you want to put aside your discomfort to understand her better. Some scenes were difficult to watch, but they helped audiences feel more connected to her than ever before.
Henry on the other hand captures a more calm and composed James, a total opposite to that of Lawrence’s Lynsey at first. However, as Lynsey comes face to face with her challenges, she makes James look within as well and face his own trauma’s. Henry’s character almost plays a catalyst in change, a friend that helps Lynsey appreciate the finer things in life and be more honest about herself and her surroundings. From the get go, you felt like James had a story to tell, one that Henry teasers from slick performance. As the veil around his past is unveiled, James very sophisticatedly brings audience into his narrative.
I think the casting team have done a phenomenal job in selecting the supporting cast that help both these characters shine, each of whom added value to the primary characters and their growth. I wish many of them had more screen time, but their contributions were quite interesting and valuable to the story. I especially want to recognize Russell Harvard for an exceptionally emotional performance in this film. A small role but critical to Lynsey’s journey. I also appreciated Emond’s performance as Lynsey’s mom, a catalyst for her daughters pathway down reflecting on herself.
I expected more from the story
While I appreciated the performances as individual characters, I felt the story didn’t do the film and its characters justice. Sometimes I didn’t understand the pace or context of certain scenes, as they didn’t add any value to the growth and development of the characters, or address anything regarding their trauma.
While I can appreciate too-much background information or flashbacks can take away from character development, I felt just referencing moments or history of traumatic events felt a little hollow. There is a lot of slow talking in this film, and by inserting pivotal points of trauma as another conversation sentence made the film slow and monotonous at times. There was rich information that could have been realized cinematically, or made more dramatic to create a diverse experience for the audience. The 90 minutes felt incredibly long.
Generational and family trauma is definitely highlighted in many parts of the film, but what I would have appreciated is if the story dove in a little more. While we understand how both James and Lynsey were impacted by their dysfunctional families, leading to self-sabotaging behaviour, we didn’t really see the characters realize this in a way in which we felt they were moving forward (or anywhere). Maybe that was the point, but I think that was a missed opportunity for more salient talking points.
As a character study, and one that focuses around trauma, Causeway is an excellent film. Both Lawrence and Henry, aided by their supporting cast, present two very different people who showcase the impact of trauma on human psychology while still trying to build a level of normalcy in their lives. However, the films story falls short as it doesn’t include much background context or go into any of the core elements of each characters trauma. I felt it was a missed opportunity to tackle triggers, and give a greater sense of how the characters viewed their traumatic event rather than just seeing how they felt right now.
I guess what you take away from this film will be based on your own experience. Be sure to catch the film when it releases November 4 exclusively on Apple TV+.
Causeway plays as part of the Special Presentations programme at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival.
Cover Image: Jennifer Lawrence as Lynsey in ‘Causeway’ | Photo Apple TV+