“Causeway” beautifully highlights the lingering effects of trauma through a formulaic lens

Refined performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry forcefully highlight the silent ramifications of life’s trauma in A24’s “Causeway.”

The film follows Lynsey (Lawrence), an American soldier who returns home to New Orleans after suffering a brain injury during his tour of Afghanistan. Back in her hometown, Lynsey finds herself living under the same roof as her mother (Linda Emond) while working as a pool cleaner. At the same time, Lynsey is stubborn and determined to work hard to apply for a redeployment.

The film follows Lynsey (Lawrence), an American soldier who returns home to New Orleans.
Photo courtesy of A24

Soon, she meets an auto mechanic named James (Henry) who offers her his company. As their friendship grows, Lynsey discovers that James exhibits the same traumatic effects she experiences. Together they form a bond that opens the way to recovery and acceptance.

The film does a great job of centralizing the haunting effects of trauma around its characters. Ultimately, “Causeway” is a film about the bond developed between two broken people with deep-seated trauma. The unlikely friendship they share is captivating and intimate, one that leads to emotional recovery. Their interactions and conversations are the key storytelling elements that drive the plot to its ambitious conclusion.

While the film features outstanding examples of residual trauma from both characters’ behaviors, this is particularly evident in Lynsey. Lawrence does a perfect job of capturing the quiet moments of melancholy reflections and destructive grief throughout the film. Lila Neugebauer, the director, really isolates Lynsey in so many visually appealing sequences to amplify the overall theme of personal trauma.

Thanks to Lawrence, his facial expressions are unmatched because they carry such a weighty goal of displaying mental disorders. There are several instances where Lawrence’s non-verbal delivery contains more substance than the dialogues themselves. She devotes so much passion to this distressed character, portraying Lynsey in the most realistic way possible.

While Lawrence shines as the lead, Henry’s supporting performance effortlessly completes his dramatic portrayal. Henry excels at lightening the whole subject with opportunities for subtle dialogic humor. Generally, the film is filled with the occasional banter between the two characters, but when there’s a need for dramatic nuance, Lawrence and Henry keep pace beautifully, maintaining their perfect balance.

Brian Tyree Henry plays an auto mechanic.  Photo courtesy of A24

Brian Tyree Henry plays an auto mechanic.
Photo courtesy of A24

Although Henry charmingly plays a light-hearted character, there is a particular scene in the middle of act two when James recalls his history of trauma; this is where Henry unveils his range of acting talent. From his calm expression to the words he exhales, Henry really taps into his dramatic acting persona, delivering a jaw-dropping presence. At times, Henry even tops Lawrence’s performance, marking him as the glue that holds this film together.

Aside from the impressive performances of both characters, the film falters in its writing. The story is semi-general and predictable like any other account of personal trauma. There are enough nuances that surface throughout the film to set it apart from the rest, but somehow the film still feels familiar. The rhythm is also problematic at times with certain sequences perceived as long and unnecessary.

“Causeway” has good intentions, but some choices were questionable, leaving the experience a little clunky. Some plot devices aren’t really explained or paid for at the end of the film, so the whole story raises a few questions. The movie is only 92 minutes long, but sometimes some viewers may feel like it is longer than its intended runtime.

The film does a great job of centralizing the haunting effects of trauma around its characters.  Photo courtesy of A24

The film does a great job of centralizing the haunting effects of trauma around its characters. Photo courtesy of A24

Despite its flaws, the film illustrates a charming friendship between two troubled individuals that feels incredibly real, one that entertains and engages viewers. Additionally, the film is a statement for Lawrence’s return to his indie roots, stepping into more dramatic and grounded roles. As for Henry, it’s one of the Oscar-worthy performances of the year, displaying such a magnetic presence throughout.

While it may not tick all the boxes, “Causeway” is still an admirable inspection of life’s trauma and its lingering effects, taken to new heights by its compelling and remarkable performances.

Robert M. Larson