Ten minutes into Causeway, Jennifer Lawrence is crying. The slow ambient soundtrack, composed by old Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers, hums with an ominous and wounded optimism best described as Profoundcore. It’s Oscar season, Apple TV+ is hungry for glory, and it’s that kind of movie. Next, Lawrence has to travel back home, after completing brutal physiotherapy following a service term in Afghanistan. The nurse who helps her, played with awesome warmth by Jayne Houdyshell, is a short-lived early highlight of this dim product.

Buzzy novelist Ottessa Moshfegh cowrote the script; her signature blend of the wry and the grotesque is nowhere to be found in over 90 minutes of humorless naturalism (unless you count a grim, tasteless use of CGI to portray a tragically severed limb). The formidable Brian Tyree Henry emerges as Lawrence’s new/old hometown best pal, but there’s not much for him to work with. It’s a shame seeing his powers of pathos put to such rangeless use. A dour, paint-by-numbers contemplation on trauma and dislocation unfolds, and we see two actors capable of tremendous expression stuck in a place that won’t allow it—instead they are given gray crayons with which to scrawl on gray paper.

As is the case with much of what’s produced by Apple’s partner in this endeavor, A24, it still looks like a spiritually meaningful movie. Sometime after the studio’s vastly superior, landmark entry Moonlight, a mimicking style of photography and corresponding collection of austerity hues became the visual skeleton key to prevailing notions of cinematic weight. And no one’s been better at exploiting this formula than the outfit that started it. If Causeway achieves anything, hopefully it will be the acceleration of this increasingly stale new prestige style’s end. R, 92 min.

Apple TV+

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art

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