Serena: Movie Review
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Toby Jones, Rhys Ifans, David Dencik, Ana Ularu
Director: Susanne Bier
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence re-team after the success of American Hustle and The Silver Linings Playbook in this Depression-era set tale, taken from the book by Ron Rash.
Cooper is George Pemberton, the owner of a timber empire, who's dealing with the possibility that his empire is being threatened by plans for a national park. However, there's a ray of light when he meets Serena (Lawrence) and decides they will be married.
Once the daughter of a tree empire owner, Serena proves to be very much Pemberton's equal in business and in love - but her arrival into the Smoky Mountains proves to be polarising, particularly when a former lover of Pemberton's and their illegitimate child comes back into the spotlight.
Serena aims for melodrama among the mountains, but ends up feeling like a melodrama with a muddled Mills and Boon pastiche thrown in for good measure.
The film's sat languishing on the shelf for a couple of years (it was shot before American Hustle) and while Cooper and Lawrence have that trademark chemistry, the adaptation of the book just fails to ignite any cinematic spark or drama that would have been inherent.
The whole feel of Serena is one of a mournful tale, from a long opening sequence of smoke hanging around the misty mountains to the simmering tensions and jealousies within, there's clearly enough material to make this work, yet it never quite takes off and soars into the drama that it clearly wants to be.
Part of the problem is that the revelations and actions of the third act feel forced in and don't resonate as perhaps they should; character motivation is simply shoe-horned in and never really feels plausible as the ideal passion-filled marriage apparently disintegrates.
Equally, the leads fail to really hit the notes needed for their characters; Lawrence feels oddly miscast and while she looks the part (all porcelain white face and crimped blonde bob), she lacks the usual subtlety needed to reach some of the emotional and psychological depths needed as she goes from sweetheart to Lady MacBeth. And Cooper reaches for dramatic but seems to be more sleep-walking than anything in this. Even an unrecognisable Rhys Ifans as a vengeful Golem-type character fails to hit anything other than a dirge.
While the film's beautifully shot, with the community at logger-heads over the foresting issue, there's a feeling that the haze in the mountains has also settled on the director and her cast in this over-cooked adaptation, which dulls more than dazzles thanks to a distinct lack of sympathy for the leads.