The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Apple TV+] - CAUSEWAY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Apple TV+] - CAUSEWAY

causeway review
A wounded soldier bonds with a man nursing his own trauma.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lila Neugebauer

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Emond, Jayne Houdyshell, Stephen McKinley Henderson

causeway poster

One of the most over-employed visual clichés in American cinema is that of a troubled female protagonist submerging themselves in water. Watch any American movie about a damaged woman and it's more likely than not that at some point she'll duck her head below the water line of a bath or spend a few seconds longer than is safe in the deep end of a swimming pool. In the past this might have been dismissed as a sly way of coaxing some nudity from a leading lady, a square on the male gaze bingo card, but in the past few years we've seen women filmmakers carry on the trope.

causeway review

Acclaimed stage director Lila Neugebauer takes this cliché a step further with her film debut Causeway. Her damaged female protagonist wants to spend so much time in the water that she takes a job as a pool cleaner so that she can submerge herself on a daily basis. Played by Jennifer Lawrence in a return to the sort of low key indie fare that kicked off her career, Lynsey is a soldier who received a brain injury when she was caught up in an explosion in Afghanistan (to continue the water metaphor, her specific role was in the building of a dam). The film opens with a sequence that sees her return to the US and begin her physical rehabilitation with the aid of kindly older nurse Sharon (Jayne Houdyshell), to whom she is often unwittingly cruel. This opening segment is the film's most engaging portion, and I would have gladly watched Lynsey and Sharon's burgeoning relationship for an entire movie.

But we quickly jump ahead in time to the point where Lynsey has been deemed fit to leave Sharon's care and return home. Lynsey can now walk and drive and even work as a pool cleaner, but sometimes the messages from her brain to her hands get lost in the mail and she drops things. Lynsey moves back in with her mother (Linda Emond), but does her best to keep out of her way to avoid arguments regarding her desire to return to Afghanistan. Instead Lynsey spends most of her time in the company of local garage owner James (Brian Tyree Henry). Like Lynsey, James is damaged both psychologically and physically, having lost a leg in a car accident that has left him with even worse emotional injuries. The movie's title references the location of James' accident, but also suggests the path to recovery Lynsey finds herself on, one that must be treaded carefully, one stone at a time.

causeway review

It's rare that we get to see men and women simply hanging out together in movies, so it's frustrating that even after Lynsey's declaration of her lesbian leaning, Causeway insists on a "will they, won’t they?" narrative. Despite the charming and tender performances of Lawrence and Henry, the movie doesn't seem to know how to portray a man and a woman as merely two platonic friends providing support for one another. When Lynsey tells James that she's only interested in women, we think we're in for something a little different. But even if James gets and accepts the message, the movie doesn't.

On multiple levels it's a surprisingly conservative film. There's a moment that suggests Lynsey's lesbianism can be interrupted by maternal feelings when she snogs the sad-eyed James because she "feels sorry for him." Visiting her addict brother in prison, Lynsey is told by her sibling that prison is the best place for him as it keeps him away from drugs, which might be the most ridiculous statement I've ever seen conveyed with a straight face. Similarly suggesting that the military is the best place for troubled people, it's difficult not to view Causeway as a piece of US government propaganda. Lynsey's goal is to get back to her role in her country's illegal invasion of Afghanistan, and those who object do so out of worry for Lynsey rather than for the Afghans whose suffering she might contribute to. Unlike Jon Voight's wounded vet in Hal Ashby's Coming Home, Lynsey never remotely lays the blame for her troubles at the door of the military. Causeway is such a right wing mirror to Coming Home that it might as well be called Going Back. While the film posits the interesting notion that America isn't the best place for working class people to deal with their various issues, left-leaning viewers will struggle with its claim that prison and the military offer better alternatives.

causeway review

It wouldn't take much tweaking of the script to turn Causeway into the sort of mega-church-funded movie that might star Gina Carano in the role of Lynsey (ironically, Coming Home star Voight would probably feature in a role given his conservative heel turn). It's an unquestioning tribute to the resilience of the troops, and if you can't see it as propaganda you might ask yourself how you would feel about a Russian movie centred on a wounded soldier whose sole motivation is to return to Ukraine?

Causeway is on Apple TV+ now.

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