Quick Reviews: 'Causeway', 'Alcarràs' | Jennifer Lawrence Recovers, Catalonian Peach Farmers
United States military member Lynsey (played by Jennifer Lawrence) returns to her hometown in New Orleans after having suffered an extremely serious brain injury from what is later revealed to have been a deadly explosion while serving in Afghanistan. She starts off by learning to speak and walk again with help from a caretaker (Jayne Houdyshell) as her motor skills have been deeply affected. Later, she ends up staying again with her mom Gloria (Linda Emond), with whom she doesn't have a close relationship. As Lynsey gets used to managing on her own again, also hoping to redeploy, she meets a kind auto repair shop owner James (Brian Tyree Henry) which sparks a friendship between them, something both are yearning for.
With her slow burn drama Causeway, director Lila Neugebauer takes on a quiet character study, with the script written by Ottessa Moshfegh, Elizabeth Sanders and Luke Goebel. Neugebauer's touch is especially delicate and sincere in the first half, as rhythms of the film reflect Lynsey's journey of somewhat reinventing herself. Lawrence and Henry also give a lot of themselves in their roles, particularly when delivering heavier material even though that material can often feel too inconsequential. In fact, there do lie the issues of Causeway as it unfortunately appears to be too rehearsed, too neat, even in scenes when filmmakers and actors are trying to broaden their scope. The film's drama and external conflicts aren't exactly as impactful as they clearly were designed to be, which then leaves you feeling like you didn't get to know Lynsey, her family or James enough to feel hopeful for or invested in their futures.
Frowneys: Characterisation, dialogue
Seems as good a time as any to delve into a movie featuring previously non-professional actors which means taking a journey to Catalonia in Spain to check out director-writer Carla Simón's newest effort Alcarràs (same title in Catalan), co-written with Arnau Vilaró. Taking place in the eponymous village, the story follows a large, local family of peach farmers, including grandfather Rogelio (Josep Abad), dad Quimet (Jordi Pujol Dolcet), mom Dolors (Anna Otin), teen daughter Mariona (Xènia Roset), teenage son Roger (Albert Bosch) and younger daughter Iris (Ainet Jounou). The family's life and relationships experience turmoil after the owner of the land dies, leaving it to be sold and used for solar panels instead of their agricultural activities.
While casting your movie in a way where there aren't at least a few experienced actors mixed in is always a risk, Simón and casting director Mireia Juárez fare pretty well in that regard here. At times, actors' reactions and line delivery can be a bit rough but emotionally they hit their beats in impressive manner, following themes like legacy, pride, masculinity and traditions which Simón floats in the air for them. Some instances bring those out better, especially when we're following events more from kids' perspectives.
Problems just begin to surface when the themes should come to life but they don't in the script's free-spirited story structure. They unfortunately remain unexplored, even though things could be approached from points of view of ignorant kids seeing adults argue, ambitious teenagers trying to make their own way or adults struggling to adapt in any way. It's hard to connect to anyone's feelings when not a single character except Rogelio seemingly even wants to be in Alcarràs, or do things that they're supposedly fighting for in this film.
Smileys: Nothing stands out