In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of George Pemberton’s timber empire becomes complicated when it is learned that his wife, Serena, cannot bear children.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Serena, the new(ish) vehicle for Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The film has had some sniffy reviews, suffered at the box office and had little, if any, promo. Not to mention that it spent almost 3 years in post-production before hitting the big screen. For viewers, this is the 3rd time we’ve seen Cooper and Lawrence together in a movie, following 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and 2013’s American Hustle although in terms of shootings this was filmed second in that list. Movies that take so long after filming before reaching cinemas are rarely a success, and I’m afraid to say that Serena continues that trend.
The plot centres upon the relationship between timber merchant George (Cooper) and his wife-cum-partner Serena (Lawrence). It’s difficult to pinpoint a central narrative, with several subplots throughout the film including the local sheriff (Toby Jones, underused) pursuing George for allegedly bribing a senator, Serena’s resentment of George’s child from a dalliance with a local cook, a visionary outlaw (Rhys Ifans – underused) who becomes conveniently indebted to Serena… AND George’s hunting of a local panther (I’m not making this up). Thankfully, these plots do weave their way together by the film’s final reel, but it’s a real slog getting there.
Director Susanne Bier’s years spent in the editing suit do not go unnoticed. A frustrating sequence at the beginning of the film using fades takes us through the meeting, marriage, consummation and relocation of George & Serena in no longer than 2 minutes. Which would be great if this were a snappy 90 minute movie, but in a film of almost 2 hours it seemed unnecessarily rushed – I wanted to know more of both characters’ back story as well as what drew them together. There are way too many 2-3 second long scenes, hinting at a desire to get in as much shots as possible. We spend far too much time with the main couple, leaving the excellent cast criminally underused, with actors such as Sam Reid and Sean Harris given roles reduced to cameos.
I was bored by this film, which given the cast is unacceptable. Lawrence does her best with a poor character given basic dialogue (‘I love you so much’… come on!) and really shows her chops in the later scenes. Cooper is average and a bit of a charisma vacuum. The film is helped by a thrilling final 20 minutes, though the preceding 90 minutes meant this was tempered by a lack of compassion towards the guys we were rooting for. The final scenes are simply preposterous and, although I saw them coming, I couldn’t believe the director thought that was a good way to end the movie. It’s ridiculous. In summary, this film just isn’t very good, and I suspect from the cast’s lack of enthusiasm in promoting it, that they agree.
Review by Richard Mason
Directed By: Susanne Bier
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Sean Harris, Toby Jones, Sam Reid, David Dencik, Ned Dennehy and Kim Bodnia