Harry Styles and Jennifer Lawrence are quietly leading new dramas

Harry Styles and Jennifer Lawrence are quietly leading new dramas

Jennifer Lawrence in “Causeway” (Photo: Apple TV+) and Harry Styles in “My Policeman” (Photo: Amazon Studios)

Much has been made of the movie star’s decline, but two streaming platforms are hoping to lure in audiences based on megawatt star power. On Apple TV+, Jennifer Lawrence begins a new phase of her career with the contemporary PTSD drama “The Causeway.” Meanwhile, on Prime Video, Harry Styles delivers his second leading man performance of the year in the gay period romance “My police officer.”

Although set in drastically different eras, the two films actually share a lot in common. They both center on stoic characters who find solace in the uniforms they wear; they are both helmed by directors known primarily for their work in theatre; and they both prefer a quiet, contemplative tone to excessive drama. Here, FOX Digital film critic Caroline Siede – who caught both films at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival – weighs in on each.

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Causeway (Streaming on Apple TV+)

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Jennifer Lawrence in “Causeway”. Photo: Apple TV+

The most compelling thing about “Causeway” is its simplicity. It doesn’t feel at all like the kind of movie a mega-famous, Oscar-winning actress would star in. In fact, it feels far more like the kind of small, intimate indie they’d make on the way up. And it’s fitting for a project that Jennifer Lawrence is reportedly using as a kind of career relaunch.

We may know her as Katniss Everdeen or Mystique or the charmingly off-kilter 22-year-old who stumbled on her way up to accept her Academy Award, but “Causeway” strips away all the glamorous sheen to reveal the unvarnished talent of an actress who is always been very, very good at commanding the screen with a unique blend of strength and vulnerability. This is the kind of pure and simple story Lawrence hasn’t really made since her 2010 breakout in “Winter’s Bone.” And that simplicity—though not always perfectly distributed—is still deeply captivating.

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Lawrence stars as Lynsey, an Army Corps engineer who recently suffered a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. Not only does she have to relearn how to talk and walk—the theme the film covers in a brief but impactful prologue—she must rethink what her future looks like now that the stability and routine of the military is (at least temporarily) gone. Lost and still healing, Lynsey moves back in with her self-centered mother (Linda Emond) in New Orleans, tries to convince her neurologist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) that she’s ready to return to duty, and tentatively befriends a local auto mechanic named James (“Atlanta” star Brian Tyree Henry).

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Brian Tyree Henry and Jennifer Lawrence in “Causeway”. Photo: Apple TV+

To the extent that “Causeway” has a plot, it centers on the warm but complicated dynamic between Lynsey and James, both nursing emotional wounds tied to their hometown of New Orleans. For much of its running time, “Causeway” is an unexpectedly breezy hangout movie, as Lynsey and James slowly bond while moving furniture or grabbing snow cones — talking about the past and avoiding it in equal measure.

Theirs is a tentative dance of two old souls masking loneliness with independence as they cautiously yearn for something more. And when the edges of their grief poke through, it’s in small, believable ways. There are no Oscar montage-ready breakdown scenes or dramatic plot twists, just 90 minutes of Lawrence and Henry commanding the screen with a nuanced, lived-in naturalism. If the movie doesn’t always know what to do with that setup, it’s still spellbinding to watch Lawrence and Henry simply exist in it.

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Indeed, it’s both a strength and a weakness that debut director Lila Neugebauer (2018’s Broadway revival of “The Waverly Gallery”) is content to let “Causeway” unfold in an observational key, rather than a histrionic one. The overall arc of the film is a little less satisfying than the individual parts within it. Still, it’s refreshing to see a story of trauma and oppression fueled by unexpected warmth and kindness. As a character drama, “Causeway” adds up to slightly less than the sum of its parts. But as an acting showcase, it proves that simplicity can be a performer’s greatest strength.

Grade: B

Rated R. 92 minutes. Director: Lila Neugebauer. With: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda EmondStephen McKinley Henderson, Jayne Houdyshell, Russell Harvard.

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My Policeman (streaming on Prime Video)

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HARRY STYLES, EMMA CORRIN and DAVID DAWSON star in MY POLICEMAN Photo: Courtesy of Prime Video © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

it’s not that rare to stumble upon an interesting film where one of the central performances just doesn’t quite work. But it’s a completely different matter when the imperfect performance belongs to world-famous pop star Harry Styles. Ironically, the selling point that will undoubtedly get the most eyes on “My Policeman” is the very thing that holds it back from being a truly great film. Still, it’s a testament to the gentle strength of the material (based on a novel of the same name by Bethan Roberts) that “My Policeman” manages to be a relatively affecting queer love story — uneven central performance and all.

It helps that Styles is surrounded by a crew of talented co-stars. He plays Tom Burgess, a reserved, socially conservative police officer living in 1950s Brighton, a British seaside town. Longing for a conventional life, Tom marries bright but reserved schoolteacher Marion Taylor (“The Crown” star Emma Corrin), while having a long-term affair with flamboyant museum curator Patrick Hazlewood (David Dawson). Meanwhile, the ripple effects of their youthful choices play out in a parallel story in which Gina McKee, Linus Roache and Rupert Everett portray the trio as they enter retirement in the 1990s.

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WATCH FOR FREE ON TUBI: Hugh Grant in the gay romance “Maurice”Get the app

Corrin and Dawson, in particular, do a ton of heavy lifting when it comes to the film’s emotionally complex central dynamic. Dawson’s dazzling performance as Patrick mixes witty confidence with tender vulnerability, speaking to an entire generation of gay men who strove to live as authentically as possible, even at a time when that authenticity could get them arrested or killed. The tragedy of the film is that Tom sees no way to do the same for himself.

The best he can do is encourage Marion and Patrick to join him in a Three Musketeers kind of friendship – one where they regularly paint the town red at lively dinner parties and cultural events. But in Tom’s almost childish desire to integrate the public and private halves of his life, he fails to see how cruel this setup is for Marion in particular, a through line McKee captures beautifully in the 1990s timeline.

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GINA MCKEE and RUPERT EVERETT star in MY POLICEMAN Photo: PARISA TAGHIZADEH © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC

Although gentle in tone, “My Policeman” understands the bitter human costs of oppression. And that’s a big part of what makes Styles’ cast so frustrating. Tom is an intentional cipher and is meant to represent the pinnacle of stoic, conventional 1950s masculinity. So why cast a lovably goofy pop star who found her greatest career success by leaning into colorful, expressive 1970s androgyny?

It’s actually not that Styles is bad so much as he’s fundamentally miscast. His sweet puppy dog ​​portrayal of Tom is largely at odds with a character who is regularly described as a kind of strappingly conventional himbo. (“The Umbrella Academy” star Tom Hopper immediately jumped to this reviewer’s mind for the role.) And while Styles has some nice moments of chemistry with Corrin and especially Dawson, the film can’t shake the oddity of its cast — a problem that also plagued his role in “Don’t worry dear.” (Maybe it’s time to admit it’s mid-century is just not Styles’ time.)

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In the end, “My Policeman” will work best for those who are either willing to look around Styles’ cast or read things that aren’t there into his performance. As a gentle period romance, the film works for the most part, especially when Dawson’s mesmerizing performance takes center stage. As a launchpad for Styles’ acting career, however, “My Policeman” fails to get off the ground.

Grade: B-

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Rated R. 113 minutes. You: Michael Grandage. With: Harry stylesEmma Corrin, Gina McKee, Linus Roache, David Dawson, Rupert Everett.

More Great Drama: “Beyond the Lights,” streaming for free on Tubi

Beyond the Lights (2014): This hauntingly beautiful coming-of-age romance about a pop star named Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is an ode to setting boundaries and not letting anyone control you—even the people who raised you. Themes of creative identity, mental health, sexism in the music industry, romantic partnerships and family pressures take center stage in this hidden gem of a film from “Love & Basketball” director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Rated PG-13. 116 minutes. You: Gina Prince-Bythewood. With too Nate Parker, Minnie driver, Danny Glover.

“Beyond the Lights” is streaming for free on TubiGet the app

How to watch “Causeway”

“Causeway” is streaming on Apple TV+ and playing in selected cinemas. The service is $4.99/month after a 7-day free trial; Apple also offers bundles that include Apple Music and Apple Arcade, and an extended three-month trial is available with the purchase of an Apple device.

How to watch “My Policeman”

“My Policeman” is streaming on Prime Video and playing in select theaters. An Amazon Prime membership costs $14.99/month or $139/year; Prime Video is also available as a standalone service for $8.99/month after a 30-day free trial.

About the author: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years lovingly analyzing the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in the When Romance Met Comedy column for the AV Club. She also hosts the film podcast, Role calland shares pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

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