Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) is in a world of pain. When we first see her, she is in a wheelchair being transferred to rehab. Her motor skills are depleted and she struggles with everyday acts such as brushing her teeth or changing clothes. We learn that she was a soldier who was deployed to Afghanistan and suffered a brain injury after her unit was attacked.
Some time later, Lynsey is ready to return to her childhood home in New Orleans. She now has regular appointments with her neurologist to assess her healing, and while most of us would focus on recovery and reconsider careers, Lynsey has other ideas. She is insistent on returning to the military, and as she spends more time in New Orleans we come to see why. Lynsey isn’t too close with her mother and Lynsey’s brother is in prison for drug dealing. She doesn’t look back on her childhood fondly, and can’t break the association between New Orleans and her difficult childhood.
Nonetheless, Lynsey tries to make the best of her circumstances and quickly finds a job cleaning pools. But on her way to work, her truck breaks down. She meets James (Brian Tyree Henry), a mechanic, at the shop and the two form a friendship. James can tell that something is wrong with Lynsey, but isn’t prying. Over time, the two open up to each other and find they have much in common. James has dealt with a tragedy of his own, and is still hurt by his experience. They are in New Orleans as part of the aftermath of their respective tragedies, and living there is a harsh reminder of worse times.
Causeway uses their budding friendship to avoid overloading us with exposition, and it works well – we learn about Lynsey and James through the same means they learn about each other. The film relies heavily on Lawrence and Henry. Two lesser actors wouldn’t be able to convincingly portray the hardships each faces and they share an excellent talent of delivering dry humor. But Causeway struggles in terms of defining who Lynsey and James will grow to be – will they become lovers? Stay as friends? Who knows? When James presents himself as Lynsey’s boyfriend to dissuade a man at the bar from hitting on her, Lynsey lets James know afterwards that she is not into men. So, of course nothing would develop. The two continue their evening unfazed by Lynsey’s admission; they can be friends. Causeway doesn’t leave it at that however, and raises the question again of what Lynsey and James are when the question didn’t need to be repeated. Their tenuous friendship threatens to derail the character study of Lynsey and detract from what the film really is about.
Nonetheless, through exploring Lynsey and James’ trauma, Causeway is a compelling look at what happens when the course of one’s life is altered. Lynsey is unrelenting in her desire to return to the military, and James is the only one who is maybe able to get through to her that it isn’t a good idea. Their friendship reinforces the idea that talking can help, and being present for others means more than one could ever know. It’s difficult to start over, but maybe it’s a little easier with some help.