Chicago International Film Festival: Jennifer Lawrence in “Causeway”

Causeway

Jennifer Lawrence has been largely quiet, of late, perhaps primarily because she got married (2019) and had a child, Cy (2022). She founded a production company, Excellent Cadaver, and that company, with Lawrence as producer and star, just completed “Causeway,” co-starring Brian Tyree Henry and directed by Lila Neugebauer. The film was screened at the 58th annual Chicago International Film Festival and will open on November 4th, 2022.

The weakest thing about Causeway is the screenplay, written by Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Elizabeth Sanders (who, it should be noted, are fiction writers relatively new to the screenwriting game). The plot meanders around with little depth or direction. It has no real “ending.” Various facets of the lead character, Lynsey, are explored and dropped into the plot, much like someone making soup out of whatever ingredients might be on hand in their refrigerator. Lynsey is a veteran. Lynsey wants to return to active duty, despite having been brain-damaged by the explosion of an IED in Afghanistan. Lynsey is a lesbian. Lynsey knows sign language and has a deaf brother, who dealt drugs and is in prison (where his mother has never visited him.) [There was never any lead-up to the deaf brother facet of the film, but it appears to have been a desire to work with the actor Russell Harvard, who is deaf in real life and whose work Lawrence and company admired.]

At the beginning of the film, we learn that Jennifer’s character (Lynsey) has either had a stroke, been in an accident, or endured something equally serious since she is checking into a residential facility to be assisted with things as basic as brushing her teeth. She improves rapidly and returns home to her childhood home in New Orleans revisiting a troubled relationship with an unreliable mother (played by Linda Emond). There are little more than fleeting references to Lynsey’s long-term issues with her mother. That is just one of the unexplored bits of business, like her brother’s earlier drug addiction or deafness or some of the details of Brian Tyree Henry’s traumatic accident.

The most important relationship that is developed after Lynsey’s return from Afghanistan (and release from the residential treatment house)  comes about when her mother’s truck breaks down and Lynsey takes the vehicle to a garage where James Aucoin (Brian Tyree Henry, Lemon in “Bullet Train”) befriends her and becomes her sole friend in town. Birds of a feather flock together; both are nursing memories of horrible traumas that happened, nearly killed them, and changed the course of their lives forever. This willingness to drop a juicy potential plot conflict into the soup and then walk away isn’t just a flaw for Lawrence’s character. It extends to co-star Brian Tyree Henry, who has had traumas of his own, including the loss of one leg in a bad car accident that killed a small child and injured his live-in lady love. The exact nature of this accident remains a bit confusing and unexplored.

“Causeway” takes us back to Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough role in “Winter’s Bone.” The film has that grainy feeling of genuine reality. You realize, while watching it, that this is no expensive blockbuster film the likes of Lawrence’s most famous roles, but this is an indie film, well-acted by the principals.

The problem is that the script goes nowhere, has no “ended” feeling, and simply leaves us scratching our heads and wondering why the writers opened up multiple myriad plot lines and then abandoned nearly all of them.  It’s nice to see that Jennifer Lawrence is still willing to appear in such slice-of-life films, but—aside from her as-always competent job— this one is forgettable. It lacks a coherent conflict-based structure that can sustain the audience’s interest. It just rambles to a close with the feeling that none of the plot avenues laid out has reached any sort of conclusion, which is a disappointing cinematic experience for the audience.

“Causeway” opens on November 4, 2022.

 

 

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About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books in a variety of genres (www.quadcitieslearning.com), has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo's Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, www.WeeklyWilson.com. Weekly Wilson is also the name of her podcast on the Bold Brave Media Global Network on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. (CDT).

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