She’s a veteran of the Afghanistan occupation, recovering from problems physical and mental, finishing up physical therapy for one, taking “‘don’t shoot yourself in the head’ kind of medicine” for the other.
He’s a sad-eyed mechanic with a prosthetic leg.
They’re just two broken people dealing with hurt, loss and grief in the town she couldn’t wait to get out of, the one that’s home to his every memory, good or bad — New Orleans.
“Causeway” is an intimate, downbeat character drama that pairs up Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry of “Widows” and TV’s “Atlanta” for a story of reflection and regret and the slim chance of making a connection that might lead each out of the hole they’re trapped in.
Not a lot happens, and some of what does is predictable in that “This is the point where the conflict kicks in” formulaic indie drama sort of way. But it’s very well-acted and its somber tone gives it heart and gravitas that the leads cash in on, time and again.
Lawrence is Lynsey, whom we meet in a wheelchair, somewhat shellshocked and in the care of a kindly widowed retiree (Jayne Houdyshell) who took up home nursing, and taking in patients, after caring for her late husband for years.
“What a miserable life” is all unfiltered Lynsey can blurt out when hearing that.
She’s got physical therapy to master, and memory issues and other PTSD symptoms. It takes time just to get her to a point where she can go “home.” And when she gets to the house she grew up in, her got-the-date-wrong mother (Linda Edmond) isn’t at home, telling us this is how Lynsey was raised — indifferently. Lynsey is “back,” but only for a “visit.” She can’t wait to get out…again.
It’s only when she borrows the family’s ancient pick-up that she meets someone she’s willing to have a conversation with. That would be James, the mechanic who looks over the aged, under-maintained Chevy Scottsdale she’s limped in with under a cloud of smoke.
James has a limp, too. He’s compassionate and easygoing and “interested” in ways that may go beyond the fact that she’s beautiful. She’s finally got someone she can talk to without opening the chat with her condition. And he gets to have a conversation with an attractive, smart and pretty woman.
The chief virtue of this Lila Neugebauer film — she directed the fine Netflix series “Maid” — is how lived-in these characters feel. Nobody takes on a N’awlins accent, but Lawrence has little trouble finding her way back to working class in this role. Her line-readings have a dry, flat quality that make us wonder what’s happened to Lynsey, what drained her and made Lynsey how she is.
Henry’s easy-going way with a line, a gesture or a suggestion from somebody else keeps him near the top of Hollywood stars most anybody’d love to have a beer with. James responds to someone he can have a sensitive conversation with like a man relieved of a burden. He, like she, has “secrets” and pain that we can see even if we don’t know the specifics.
It’s a little surprising that it took three screenwriters to conjure up what connects these two — a city and the shared music and history that comes with it. Somebody figured out she’d need to grab the first job that presents itself — cleaning pools, and found things to do with that. Somebody else probably figured out James’ real agenda.
“Causeway” is slight but immersive, warm with the occasional chill and engaging in ways two very good actors can manage with just the barest bones of a story and a scattering of secrets to give away, one pained revelation at a time.
Rating: R (profanity), smoking
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Edmund and Stephen McKinley Henderson.
Credits: Directed by Lila Neugebauer, scripted by Otessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel and Elizabeth Sanders. An A24 Film on Apple+.
Running time: 1:34