A24’s latest project, “Causeway,” revolves around one simple idea: care.
Military veteran Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence, “The Hunger Games”) has just returned from Afghanistan. She’s broken and adrift, struggling to heal from a severe brain injury. Lynsey’s journey begins in the home of Sharon (Jayne Houdyshell, “Garden State”), a hired caretaker helping her relearn almost everything, from brushing her teeth to driving a car.
Once Sharon clears Lynsey to return to her childhood home in New Orleans, Lynsey’s recovery becomes more complicated. Reunited with her emotionally distant mother, Gloria (Linda Emond, “The Patient”), and working as a pool cleaner, Lynsey must confront underlying childhood trauma along with her more recent injuries. Lonely and overwhelmed, she searches for emotional support.
Enter James (Brian Tyree Henry, “Eternals”), an earnest car mechanic with a painful past of his own. He meets Lynsey as a client, tasked with fixing her old family truck. The two strike up a friendship that quickly becomes the heart of the film. Where Lynsey is awkward and subdued, James is warm and curious. They bond over beer and a shared desperation for companionship. In each other, they find a level of care that neither has experienced for a long time. But with intimacy comes discomfort. Both characters are haunted by their own mistakes. Their relationship revolves around questions of care — how much do they allow themselves, and, more importantly, how much do they deserve?
There’s no definite answer, but director Lila Neugebauer allows her characters ample space with which to explore their own healing processes. Lynsey spends much of the film pushing away offers of care in order to prove she is fit to return to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, James extends and accepts care willingly, hoping that mitigating his loneliness will erase his traumatic past. By befriending one another, Lynsey and James begin to unravel their own misconceptions. Together, they remind each other that to recover, we must care — both for ourselves and others. This message is emphasized by stunning performances from both Lawrence and Henry, who bring an aching sincerity to all the ideas they represent. After recently expressing her desire to work on smaller, more intimate projects, it’s refreshing to see Lawrence play such a nuanced character.
“Causeway” is a patient movie, content to let viewers sit in comfortable silence with James and Lynsey. It’s at its best when it lingers on the details — Lynsey’s overgrown garden, the spotless interior of James’s vintage green Mercedes, street corners with fading stucco murals. Propelled by Alex Somers’s (“Fresh”) swelling score, the story feels as slow and gentle as the New Orleans summer it depicts. It’s a quiet reminder that pain’s most vital remedy is time.
Unlike most trauma-centered films, “Causeway” has no gory flashbacks, no reactive violence. This is both a strength and a weakness. Sometimes the vagueness of Lynsey’s past threaten to dull her pain. But more often it’s the opposite. The fuzziness of the past forces audiences to refocus on Lynsey and James’s relationship. The care they innately long for and extend to each other is more than enough to fill 90 minutes. “Causeway” is a breath of fresh air — a trauma story that is less about a violent past and more about a complicated present.
Daily Arts Writer Lola D’Onofrio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.