2015-05-29 08:56

What it's about:

George Pemberton's thriving timber empire is threatened by the pressures of the Great Depression, but when he meets and marries the enigmatic Serena, things take a turn – but perhaps not in the ways he was expecting.

What we thought:

Serena should really have been something special. Based on a beloved novel, it reunites the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence with her increasingly impressive Silver Linings Playbook co-star, Bradley Cooper, for a thematically rich and complex period-drama, directed by Susanne Bier, an Oscar-winning Danish filmmaker. And it is something special. As long as by “special” you mean a stunning and singular example of a calamity of a film that is infinitely less than the sum of its parts.

Serena had absolutely everything going for it but the result is a disastrous mess and one of the year's most tedious, dirge-like and frankly badly told movies. It's hard to know where things started to go wrong, but every aspect of the film – save, perhaps, for the moody cinematography and unobtrusive score – is an unmitigated disaster.

Cooper and Lawrence try their best but he is stuck with a character that is utterly free of personality, let alone depth, while she is stuck playing the sort of female character that you'd really think people would have stopped writing a long, long time ago. Serena may seem like a feminist hero at first with her tough-as-nails, woman-of-the-people persona but as the film progresses she becomes more and more cartoonish that by the end she is nothing more than the worst “screeching, hysterical woman” stereotype imaginable. Even their chemistry is oddly lacking.

The actual storytelling of the film though, is even worse. All the lumpen symbolism in the world can't obscure the fact that the film has an overly convoluted plot that quickly spirals out of control, shoddy pacing and no sense of its own tone. It starts off as a slow (oh so very, very, very slow), brooding drama and ends up as a slow (oh so very, very, very slow), brooding pulpy-psychological-melodrama-turned-thriller.

The early parts of the film are unspeakably dreary but they at least have a sense of purpose. As the film progresses, however, and the character drama (such as it is) gives way for a very fruity plot filled with treachery, insanity and murder, it keeps exactly the same dreary tone, thereby robbing any of it of its power, never mind its sense of fun. It's terribly dull as a drama but it's just shockingly ill judged as a nutty bit of pulp fun – and though the tone may unite these disparate strands somewhat, that doesn't mean that it's at all an appropriate fit for most of them.

The novel, apparently (I haven't read it), is a wonderfully rich and complex character study that examines everything from the loss of a child to the socio-economic climate of Depression-era America so it's presumably the case that it was simply too novelistic to successfully adapt into a two hour film. The fact that it's taken to so long to be released certainly bears that out as the reason it was delayed for enough time for its stars to make at least half a dozen films a piece in the meantime (and, of course, one together again) was because Bier could not find a final cut of the film with which she was remotely satisfied.

It's tempting to give the film the benefit of the doubt for its sheer ambition and for all the goodwill that its stars have engendered in the years since they shot it, but Serena is simply awful.

Read more on:    jennifer lawrence  |  bradley cooper  |  movies

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