Jennifer Lawrence has been largely quiet, of late, perhaps primarily because she got married (2019) and had a child, Cy (2022).She founded a production company, Excellent Cadaver, and that company, with Lawrence as producer and star, just completed “Causeway,” co-starring Brian Tyree Henry and directed by Lila Neugebauer. The film screened at the 58th annual Chicago International Film Festival and will open November 4th, 2022.
The weakest thing about the film is the screenplay , written by Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh and Elizabeth Sanders (who, it should be noted, are fiction writers converting to the screenwriting game). The plot meanders around with little depth or direction. It has no real “ending.” Various facets of the lead character, Lynsey, are explored and dropped into the plot, much like someone making soup out of whatever ingredients might be on hand in their refrigerator. Lynsey is a veteran. Lynsey wants to return to active duty, despite having been brain-damaged by the explosion of an IED in Afghanistan. Lynsey is a lesbian. Lynsey knows sign language and has a deaf brother, who dealt drugs and is in prison (where Mom has never visited him.) There was never any prior lead-up to the deaf brother facet of the film, but it appears to have been a desire to work with the actor Russell Harvard, who is deaf in real life and whose work Lawrence and company admired.
At the beginning of the film, we learn that Jennifer’s character (Lynsey) has been in an accident, since she is checking into a residential facility to be assisted with things as basic as brushing her teeth. It did not immediately scream IED explosion in Afghanistan, but we gradually find this out. She improves rapidly returning to her childhood home in New Orleans and revisiting a troubled relationship with an unreliable mother (played by Linda Emond).
There are little more than fleeting references to Lynsey’s long-term issues with her mother. That is just one of the unexplored bits of business, like her brother’s earlier drug addiction, imprisonment, or deafness.
The most important relationship that is developed after Lynsey’s return from Afghanistan (and release from the residential treatment house) comes about when her mother’s truck breaks down. Lynsey takes the vehicle to a garage where James Aucoin (Brian Tyree Henry, Lemon in “Bullet Train”) befriends her and becomes her sole friend. Birds of a feather flock together, and both are dealing with memories of horrible traumas that nearly killed them, and changed the course of their lives forever.
This willingness to drop a juicy potential plot conflict into the soup and then walk away isn’t just a flaw for Lawrence’s character. It extends to co-star Brian Tyree Henry’s traumas, including the loss of one leg in a bad car accident that killed a small child and injured his live-in lady love. The exact nature of this accident is very briefly limned. All the details remain slightly confusing and unexplored.
This film takes us back to Jennifer Lawrence’s break-through role in “Winter’s Bone.” “Causeway” has that grainy feeling of genuine reality. You realize, while watching it, that this is no expensive blockbuster film the likes of Lawrence’s most famous roles, but is an indie film, well-acted by the principals. She is very good in it; I was disappointed that the writing was not more expertly crafted for the actors’ skillful interpretations. It’s not the only fine effort limited by the weakness of the script.
The problem is that the script goes nowhere, has no “ended” feeling, and simply leaves us scratching our heads and wondering why the writers opened up multiple myriad plot lines and then abandoned most of them. It’s nice to see that Jennifer Lawrence is still willing to appear in such slice- of -life films, but—aside from her as-always competent job— “Causeway” is eminently forgettable. It lacks a coherent conflict-based structure that can sustain the audience’s interest. It just rambles to a close with the feeling that none of the plot avenues laid out has reached any sort of conclusion, which is a disappointing cinematic experience for the audience.
This Apple original film premieres on November 4, 2022.