Causeway (2022) Film Review

Causeway
Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry are sublime together. With their characters’ shared backgrounds of broken families and physical trauma, they become one. Lawrence reaffirms her status as one of the cinema’s greatest actresses.

Returning to the screen after a bit of an absence (let’s forget about that Adam McKay movie) in “Causeway,” director Lila Neugebauer’s superb directorial debut, Jennifer Lawrence, like her character Lynsey, makes her presence felt little by little, taking baby steps as she struggles to get up from her wheelchair and into our lives.

Lynsey has suffered a traumatic brain injury from an IED explosion in Afghanistan, and when we first meet her, she is relearning to do the basic things in life with the help of a patient help aide (Jayne Houdyshell). One side of her body is weak, and she struggles to find the right words when speaking. It’s a grueling recovery schedule but, in her own quiet and determined way, Lynsey gets through it.

Returning to her native New Orleans, we know when her mother forgets to pick her up at the bus terminal that things are not going to go well on the home front. Mom, played by the always dependable Linda Emond (“Indignation”), has always had more time for herself than for Lynsey and her deaf brother, who, we later find out, is in jail for drug dealing.

Causeway (2022)

Getting a job cleaning pools around the city, Lynsey meets James (Brian Tyree Henry), the repair shop’s owner, when her truck breaks down. From this point, the film, which Neugebauer beautifully modulates, becomes a two-hander. And we are blessed that we are in the presence of two of the greatest actors in the cinema today. In its restrained and easygoing way, the film seduces you. Forty-five minutes in, it hit me that I was watching something exceptional, a low-key masterpiece.

James had his own trauma, losing a leg (and more) in a horrific automobile accident, the site of which gives the movie has its title. Like Lynsey, he can take the hard knocks and get on with his life. They are kindred spirits. But there is a gradual feeling of sexual tension as well. We sense from their first meeting that James wants more than just friendship in the relationship. This elephant-in-room makes it’s presence felt when Lynsey is proposed to by a drunk patron in a bar where she and James are having lunch. After a few awkward moments, in what must be one of cinema’s more matter-of-fact coming outs, Lynsey tells James that she usually dates girls.

Later, there is a beautifully acted scene when, during a midnight swim, James reluctantly reveals the details of the crash. As they embrace and comfort one another, the boundaries of their friendship, which they have so carefully cultivated, briefly come apart, and James is free to verbalize all of the frustration he has been holding back.

Like in “Winter’s Bone,” the movie that put her on the map, Lawrence gives a performance that’s low-key yet astonishingly powerful, reaffirming her standing as one of the cinema’s greatest actresses. And Henry is a tour de force, the quality of his work here matching that of his spine-tingling monologue (backed by Nicholas Britell’s haunting score) in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Essential viewing.

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