Here in recognized theater director Lila NeugebauerLawrence’s feature film debut will operate in a lower, more intimate register. It somehow seems liberating to her – the lack of makeup, the subtle rhythms, the calm pace. She’s still the girl on fire, but the flame is a little softer, inviting you to lean in and feel its warmth.
Lawrence stars as Lynsey, a young woman who has just returned to the United States from Afghanistan, where an IED left her with a severe brain injury while working with the Army Corps of Engineers. In a stripped-down opening sequence, Neugebauer effectively establishes Lynsey’s awkward new routine as she relearns basic tasks like brushing her teeth and holding a glass of water. The always great Jayne Houdyshell makes a big impression in just a few scenes as Sharon, the even-tempered, kind-hearted caretaker who houses her and helps her through the initial stages of her recovery. (“Causeway” boasts a killer lineup of veteran actors in key supporting roles; in addition to Houdyshell, there Linda Emond as Lynsey’s windy mother and Stephen McKinley Henderson as her careful physician.)
Lynsey’s body language says what she doesn’t want: that she’s frustrated, that she’s impatient, that she hates having to rely on other people to get through the day. Lawrence accomplishes a great deal wordlessly in expressing who her character is and what she values. She is so intuitive in the smallest of ways. And when we meet Lynsey’s mother—or rather, watch her stumble into the family’s shabby house in New Orleans, having forgotten to pick Lynsey up from the bus station—we begin to understand the origins of this independent streak.
But Lynsey’s defiant facade begins to crumble when she strikes up an unlikely friendship Brian Tyree HenryIt’s James, the mechanic, working on his wrecked pickup truck. The whole movie really changes when Henry arrives, he exudes such a deep humanity. But James has also endured significant physical damage and learned to deal with his own demons — all of which derail the script Ottessa Moshfegh & Luke Goebel and Elizabeth Sanders sounds like a total letdown. It is not.
Lawrence and Henry enjoy a gentle, light vibe, and while their characters tentatively feel each other out, they’re in no time affectionately teasing each other with the comfort of childhood friends. Before James becomes a central part of Lynsey’s life, she constantly encounters the party atmosphere of the town, but remains only on the periphery of it. He helps her come back to the real world and she helps him open up and trust again. They bond by sneaking into Garden District backyards, where she cleans pools by day, and through the extreme Louisiana activity of drinking a six-pack of beer in the park on a sticky summer night. Watching them together is a consistent, simple joy.