‘Causeway’: Jennifer Lawrence Is Superb as a Brain-Injured Soldier Adjusting to Civilian Life
Jennifer Lawrence, an accomplished actor who received her first Oscar nomination at the tender age of 20 for role as an Ozark Mountain teen struggling to keep her family together in Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone,” returns to her roots for another indie drama set in the American South, “Causeway.” Lawrence plays the kind of role usually played by young actors wanting to flex their dramatic muscles, that of a soldier reacclimating to civilian life.
Lawrence plays Lynsey, a military engineer who has just returned from Afghanistan with a brain injury. She eventually reveals the circumstances of her injury to her kindly doctor (Stephen McKinley Henderson) back home in New Orleans. She was driving with a convoy when an IED went off in her vicinity, and the blast caused her brain to bleed. When we first meet her here, she is at a rehabilitation center working with another compassionate medical professional, Sharon (Jayne Houdyshell), who helps her walk again and perform basic tasks. Sometime later, she is released, but still has issues with her motor skills and other functions.
Back in New Orleans, Lynsey has no choice but to move back in with her mother, Gloria (Linda Emond), who is unable to provide her daughter much support, emotional or otherwise, due to her having her own demons. She goes out partying instead of picking her up from the bus station, claiming she got her dates mixed up. Gloria does make some effort to bond with Lynsey, but there is tension between the two women due to some things that went down during Lynsey’s childhood, including Gloria’s abuse of alcohol and Lynsey’s brother’s drug use.
Despite what she had been through, Lynsey wants to work towards being healthy enough to be redeployed. While it may be hard for an outsider to understand, those who have served or who have been close to someone who has can probably understand where she is coming from, although she never explicitly spells it out. Many exiting the military miss the routine and sense of purpose they got out of joining, despite the risks. In Lynsey’s case, home is far from a peaceful retreat for her, mostly due to memories from her troubled childhood. It eventually becomes clear that she has more trauma from her upbringing than from serving in a war-torn country.
Lynsey soon finds a new routine, a less regimented one that involves cleaning pools for a living. This may sound like grunt work, but Lynsey loves water, and Lawrence and director Lila Neugebauer make it look like one of the most zen jobs there is. She even gets to sneak in a dip in one of the swankier properties she works on, a major perk in the sweltering New Orleans heat.
A major part of Lynsey’s new life is her new friendship with James (Brian Tyree Henry), a local mechanic whose sister she knew in high school. Although their connection is not a romantic one (Lynsey only dates women), Lynsey and James’ relationship is the emotional core of the film. Lawrence and James are great together as the pair bond over their shared traumas. Although James never severed, he has an injury one usually associates with veterans, a missing leg. But the pair have a lot of lighter moments that remind the viewer just how important human connectedness is, especially when one has had a harrowing experience that makes them feel like they are all alone.
With four Oscar nominations and one win under her belt, Lawrence does not have a lot to prove as an actress, but she does an excellent job with a script that tells a relatively simple story about coming home from war. When most people think of her, they think of the showier roles in films like “American Hustle” and “Don’t Look Up,” but here she is stripped down, doing a lot with sparse dialogue and movements. Neugebauer, along with writers Elizabeth Sanders, Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh, wisely chose not to have the characters over explain themselves, which helped bring out these striking performances from Lawrence and her co-stars.
“Causeway” releases Oct. 28 in select theaters and begins streaming Nov. 4 on Apple TV+.