‘Serena’ reunites the Academy Award winning team of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both brilliant in their own right, and enjoying the tops of their careers. They've proven themselves before, but the question is: can lightning strike twice?
Set in 1929 in North Carolina after the stock market crash that brought America to its knees, ‘Serena’ tells the story of timber baron George Pemberton (Cooper) and his new wife Serena (Lawrence).
George might be a bit of a cad – an ambitious man living in hard times, well-off but up to his eyeballs in debt. He sees "wounded" Serena at a society event, and decides he must marry her. But Serena is more than just wounded, with a past even more damaging than George’s.
The newlyweds settle in to the logging town servicing George’s company, and Serena soon proves herself as capable as any of George’s foremen. It isn't long before Serena is influencing George and alienating his men. Further complications appear in the form of George’s former mistress and her child.
SWITCH: 'SERENA' TRAILER
The film swings between the Pemberton's personal troubles and their business strife, at times addressing them apart and then weaving them together. The story is certainly a tragedy, and a tad predictable. We just know from the outset that people this messed up are not going to have a happy ending. ‘Serena’ isn't a tear-jerker, but it sure ain't a feel-good film.
The production quality of the movie is very high; the set dressers and wardrobe department did a fantastic job. Not so much the editing and direction team, with several pointless scenes, and wasted shots of monochrome scenery. I’m sure there are parallels to be drawn, and a very deliberate reason for the shots they used, but those elements seemed to fail to meet their potential. A couple of those pointless scenes were the “love” scenes between Cooper and Lawrence; not only did Lawrence at times look like she was kissing her brother, but there were simply too many of them. I thought, okay, they have a passionate marriage, we get it, move on.
The story is certainly a tragedy, and a tad predictable.
Another aspect of the film that lacked polish was the dialogue – some lines were just plain clumsy, not helped at all by the realistic (but distracting) North Carolina accents the actors did their best to affect. The many British members of the cast (including the excellent Rhys Ifans and Toby Jones) at times do a better job of it than the Americans. The supporting cast are excellent overall, and apart from the occasional tiny wobble, the performance from the leads is as superlative as we've come to expect. I have to hand it to whoever taught Cooper to shoot – details in that were excellent; though Lawrence needs a lot more work to look comfortable on horseback.
However, Lawrence reminded us just why ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ won her an Oscar. She infused her character with overlapping layers of logic and lunacy, while somehow managing to keep Serena just relatable enough that you couldn't be completely repulsed by her actions. Cooper was just as good: George was a man torn between his ambition, his love, and doing the right thing.
‘Serena’ is a fascinating story, but I have to admit, despite the quality of the acting, the premise of the film let it down. I certainly wouldn't recommend spending your hard earned dollars to see it at the cinema, and to answer my earlier question, the Academy might feel the tingle of electricity, but the average summer movie-goer won’t.