Some perfectly good, sincerely intended performances and well-meant ideas don’t do quite enough to correct the glibness and triteness in this self-conscious drama set in New Orleans. Jennifer Lawrence plays Lynsey, a serving soldier in the US military who has been sent home from Afghanistan, suffering from a traumatic brain injury after the explosion of two roadside bombs. Lynsey now has anxiety, disorientation, memory loss and physical coordination issues.
After therapy from a kindly nurse, Sharon (Jayne Houdyshell), Lynsey has to live with her mom, Gloria (Linda Emond), who is a bit of a drinker and perhaps not providing the exact environment she needs. To the astonished dismay of her physician and family, Lynsey is keen not merely to get better, but to get better enough to redeploy, to go back into the army and see action once again in Afghanistan. She associates New Orleans with a grim world that might drag her down the way it dragged down her drug-abusing brother; the army got her out of there and she is ready to risk everything once again on the field of battle. At least now she has a friend: the sweet-natured, worldly-wise guy who fixed her truck, James, played by Brian Tyree Henry. Like Lawrence, he delivers a decent performance.
But there is something a bit too smooth about the brain injury from which Lawrence’s character is supposedly suffering, with its lack of unsightly symptoms or visible wounds. She also keeps on going swimming in the pools she has a job cleaning. The movie starts with some ostentatiously tough scenes: Lynsey is almost catatonic with depression, she uses a wheelchair, she can’t brush her teeth and the nurse has to help her on and off the lavatory. And then, yes, Lynsey is supposed to have improved through therapy – a kind of off-camera single-transition montage leap from illness to near-recovery. Now, despite a few picturesque glitches, she has no serious physical problems.
Then there are all the pills she has to take. Lynsey is not supposed to drink alcohol on those. But she rashly has some beers with James. Uh-oh. What’s going to happen? Well, it could be argued that the wrong choices and the insensitive moves she makes around James are down to drinking on medication. But again, this looks like another risk-free plot contrivance which never lets Lawrence behave too badly or too unattractively.
Everything about this film means well and it is acted with professionalism and commitment. But there is something too easy about it.
• Causeway screened at the Toronto film festival and is released on 4 November on Apple TV+.