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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Lila Neugebauer
prd Jennifer Lawrence, Justine Polsky
scr Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh, Elizabeth Sanders
with Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Emond, Jayne Houdyshell, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Harvard, Frederick Weller, Sean Carvajal, Neal Huff, Will Pullen, Danny Wolohan, Samuel H Levine
release US/UK 4.Nov.22
22/US A24 1h32
TORONTO FILM FEST
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Theatre director Lila Neigebauer makes a remarkable feature film debut with this delicately crafted drama, which explores a topical issue through an especially internalised perspective. This requires sensitive performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry, who are extraordinary as two people struggling to get their lives back on track after serious traumatic injuries. Never obvious about anything, the film gets deep under the skin of its characters.
Returning home to New Orleans after a serious head injury in Afghanistan, Lynsey (Lawrence) is impatient to recover so she can to return to active service. Her doctor (Henderson) is dubious about this. But Linsey doesn't want to be back home living with her mother Gloria (Emond), with whom she has a strained relationship. So she finds calming work as a pool cleaner, and also makes an unexpected friend in mechanic James (Henry), whose life changed after a car crash on the causeway. Perhaps these two wounded people can push each other back to life.
Refreshingly, nothing about this film plays out as expected, avoiding the usual tropes that fill these kinds of stories. Neigebauer lets everything happen within the characters, resisting flashbacks and sideroads to instead create an unusually pure point of view. And the script deliberately rejects a simplistic romance. Dialog is also minimalistic, allowing the two lead actors to reveal oceans of conflicting emotions. So even if we don't have all of the details about these people, we feel everything like a sharp pinch.
Lawrence delivers a remarkably stripped-back performance as a woman who doesn't quite realise how stunned she has been by her head injury. Determined to get back to her own life, Lynsey won't stop to see where she is. It's a complex role that's rendered beautifully, especially as it echoes in relationships. Henry is also excellent as her one confidant, a man who hasn't faced his own haunting experience. And there are powerful scenes for Emond, Houdyshell (as a care assistant) and especially Harvard (as Lynsey's incarcerated brother).
It's rare to see a film that avoids the obvious flashpoints as it takes on enormous issues like traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, strained family relationships and crippling regret. By keeping everything in the present tense, Neugebauer allows the audience to experience these feelings with a bracing authenticity. It's a small film that carries an enormous wallop, which comes from a direction we aren't expecting. And it has the power to change the way we think about these things.
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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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