Having spent a decade directing the words of Broadway legends such as Annie Baker, Tracy Letts, and Zoe Kazan – to name a handful – Lila Neugebauer gracefully steps into the world of film with her feature directorial debut, Causeway. It’s a debut not just for Neugebauer but also for the writing team and becomes Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence’s first producing credit. As well as producing, Lawrence leads this quiet rumination on trauma as Lynsey, a US soldier returning home from Afghanistan after suffering a brain injury while in combat. Struggling to adjust to life after moving back in with her mother, Gloria (Linda Edmond), Lynsey strikes up a friendship with James (Brian Tyree Henry), a local car mechanic simultaneously healing from his own trauma.
New Orleans is the playground for this ensemble. Cinematographer, Diego García, shares that he has never shot in the city before, yet he captures the intimate beauty of people’s backyards exquisitely. Lynsey spends most of her time going from house to house cleaning pools, and in these private spaces, we see the friendship between Lynsey and James blossom as they swim together, smoke, drink and learn to share things they don’t feel comfortable voicing elsewhere. Jennifer Lawrence expresses that Neugebauer was as meticulous with the words on the page as they would be in theatre, apparent in every frame where each line invites us deeper into the world of these characters. As Lynsey and James unfold for one another, we, too, fall in love with them as they form a platonic intimacy that keeps the other person afloat.
Brian Tyree Henry is a standout. There’s an inner life bubbling behind his eyes, ready to burst at any moment that is impossible to ignore. He and Jennifer Lawrence have magnificent chemistry that keeps the already short run time of 92 minutes breezing by.
It’s a joy to see Lawrence on the big screen once more after a momentary break in projects, and she is as compelling and sublime as ever. Neugebauer credits extensive communication with veterans and those who work alongside them in rehabilitation for the film being rooted so firmly in truth. Lynsey is grappling with complexity beyond comprehension, and Jennifer Lawrence, as a master of inner worlds, will surprise no one with the skill she displays on screen.
Deeply human and flooded with empathy, grace and a thirst for connection, Causeway aches for you to fall in love with it. Although there’ll be valid discussions on how it handles its themes, it is an accomplishment for everyone involved.
This review is from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival Apple Original Films will release Causeway in theaters on November 4.