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Film Review – Serena

3 min read

Following the success of films like Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, it’s not surprising that Hollywood was desperate to reteam Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Serena.

Adapted from the bestselling novel by Ron Rash, director Susanne Bier’s romantic period drama focuses on the relationship between North Carolina timber tycoon George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) and his strong, independent, wife and business partner Serena (Jennifer Lawrence).

The film commences with Pemberton not only locking horns with the bank but also with the rich North Carolina locals who wish to turn his timber stake into a National Park. He has a fling with a local girl, leaves town, marries Serena and when he returns, said local girl is pregnant with his child. Pemberton being the stellar guy that he is, ignores her and her predicament but later feels remorse. In an attempt to make up for his indiscretion, he gives the mother of his child a job and starts sending her secret cash payments. Meanwhile, Serena largely runs the timber business herself, but following a devastating miscarriage, and the discovery of her husband’s secret payments, Serena unravels, fixating on the mother and her child.

Serena Insert

Directed by Academy Award-winner, Susanne Bier, it is evident that this film is desperate for an Oscar but despite its enthusiastic reach it falls devastatingly short of even being in the running.

Serena is in a word; underwhelming. It is also contrived, slow and so ridiculous at times that it verges on parody. It is as if the characters are there but they are not exactly sure what they are supposed to be doing. The beautiful cinematography (Morten Soberg) and striking costuming (Signe Sejlund) beg for a better script and sharper editing but they receive neither.

This is a film that runs for a hundred and nine minutes but could have easily run for ninety. In fact, we are still waiting for it to get going right up until the lukewarm climax twenty minutes before its conclusion. Plot points are set up that never really get explored or are otherwise resolved too quickly to add any tension to the film. Far-fetched pretense fast turns into all out absurdity and the conclusion of the film is actually laughable.

Cooper and Lawrence do the best they can to keep us engaged but even they cannot get us to like these one-dimensional, selfish and self-involved characters. Some critics have even slammed Jennifer Lawrence, crying ‘poor performance’ but she is merely making lemonade, it’s the writing that lets her and the audience down. In any case, it is difficult to like characters that have little regard for anything other than themselves and their ‘great love’, which can sadly never compete with their own personal agendas.

Like Serena herself, this film looks strong from the outside but once you delve deeper, the cracks begin to show until there is nothing left but pretty mountain views, lush fabrics and tepid despair.

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