A movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is a recipe for success right? Especially when the director Susanne Bier is an academy award winner (2010, In a Better World)… Well, “Serena” starring the two high profile actors has received quite a lot of flak from critics.
Director, Susanne Bier filmed Serena in 2012 while “Sliver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” were in production and then was thrown into the ‘maybe column’ during post-production. It’s not surprising that the film is undistinguished and depressing despite having high production value aesthetically. This period piece set in the 1920s is clearly just a run-of-the-mill pet project for Bier.
Serena is an adaptation from a novel by world-renowned author Ron Rash. The book is actually excellent and it’s a shame that the movie downplays it. The film is set in the Depression-era in the North Carolina Mountains. George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) marries Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) and the two set out to build a timber empire. It surfaces that George impregnated a local girl, Rachel (Ana Ularu) before he met Serena but the two ignore the girl’s pregnancy. The power couple is committed to taking their business endeavors to Brazil to the point of executing anyone in their way. A few months into their marriage Serena falls pregnant however this doesn’t stop her from doing manual labor in the lumberyard with the men. In fact, she loses the baby due to riding a horse amidst trying to save a man’s life. She finds out that is unable to conceive again and this pushes her off the rails mentality especially when young Rachel is walking around with her new baby that looks exactly like George. When George begins to show interest in his son Serena is challenged to do something about it.
There are a lot of sub-plots in the film that are not threaded through well enough to compliment the main story line. Actually, I still don’t know what the main storyline is. Is the film a tragic love story or is it about a pioneering lumberjack that wants to expand his empire, or is it about a psychotic woman that is filled with rage and jealousy because she can’t bear children of her own? Despite the narrative confusion, the actors are naturally both very good at what they do. Another upside of this film is that it looks brilliant! The production design, costumes, and locations definitely support the story. Cinematically, Morton Soborg (Director of Photography) used complimentary lighting techniques and shots to capture the striking locations and powerful performances from the actors.
Sadly, Serena is below standard. It is a waste of good actors and production design.