‘Causeway’ Review: A Subtle, Understated Gem with Jennifer Lawrence’s Sharpest Performance Yet


Many are calling “Causeway” Jennifer Lawrence’s comeback film, but I (possibly ignorantly) utter the question: was Jennifer Lawrence actually ever here? Protagonist of “The Hunger Games” and “Don’t Look Up” among others, Lawrence has found her fare share of success over the last decade by playing large roles in floundering franchise works, as well as remarkably unsuccessful auteur projects. But to simply be in these films doesn’t mean that she necessarily excels in them – or even has good taste in what she chooses to embark in.

Needless to say, I’ve been a cynic to the recent reclamation of Lawrence’s career path and notion that she’s always had this talent on display. Even mediocre performers have luck in choosing one or two projects over the span of a decade that are sincere hits. She’s been in “mother!” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” but for each of these, there’s a “Passengers” or “X-Men” bomb around the corner. But for someone who can be as dubious about Jennifer Lawrence’s career arc as anyone, I couldn’t help but be completely won over by the charming and earnest nature of the Lila Neugebauer-directed and Jennifer Lawrence-starring “Causeway.”

Maybe it’s because, for once, the material is simple enough to let her cook. There isn’t a YA backstory being infused about teenagers being thrust into an arena to fight to the death, or a team of mutants teaming up to defeat an otherworldly foe. For once, Jennifer Lawrence has the runway to give the performance of her career. And she sure does seize on the opportunity to show her critics what she’s capable of.

“Causeway” is half a hangout film between Lawrence’s Lynsey and Brian Tyree Henry’s James and half a film about reacclimating to life coming back from Afghanistan. The brunt of the heavy lifting is on Lawrence’s shoulders to balance the two storylines. The film is not only more emotionally gripping than most of the material she’s worked on in the past, it’s also more thematically stirring and riveting. She’s working with a pretty powerful and understated script and it takes a seasoned actress to accomplish what she does here.

When Lynsey suffers a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan that takes away some of her control over her own body, she is discharged and returns to her home in Louisiana to heal and recover. While there, she forms an unexpected bond with a mechanic while she waits for her redeployment.

Perhaps the best part of “Causeway” is that it is an unobtrusive star vehicle that lets its two leading performers make choices and show what they are capable of with solid material and chemistry. I’ve been a fan of Brian Tyree Henry’s for quite some time (he’s the standout role in numerous mediocre titles such as “Eternals,” “Child’s Play,” and even “Bullet Train” from earlier in 2022), but he’s never given a performance as multi-dimensional and humanistic as he does in “Causeway.” It’s a fantastic two-hander that could have been an hour longer and I would have had no complaints.

As we begin to wrap up the year and look back at some of the best films the industry has offered over the last 365 days, I often think about “Causeway” – not because it necessarily stands toe-to-toe with the juggernauts leading the charge for best picture, but because I felt there wasn’t nearly enough attention given to it even immediately after it’s Apple TV+ release. Maybe this is because it’s an extremely subdued and understated film, or maybe it’s as simple as not enough people subscribe to Apple TV+ and watch their film offerings (which is a shame, Apple TV+ has built a remarkable library over the last few years).

Regardless, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, as well as Henry’s supporting role and Neugebauer’s unobtrusive directing style, makes “Causeway” one of the year’s sharpest and most afflicting films – one that pulls more emotion out of you than the average studio blockbuster. Many films pull you in with pyrotechnics and bedazzled stylistic choices; it’s harder to conjure up enough emotional weight early on to keep a viewer locked in, but “Causeway” does that. Consider me bought in to the Jennifer Lawrence bandwagon, because when we get to the best-of lists for the end of the year, she (and the film) will surely be on them.