Synopsis: The North Carolina mountains at the end of the 1920s – George and Serena Pemberton, love-struck newly-weds, begin to build a timber empire. Serena soon proves herself to be equal to any man: overseeing loggers, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving a man’s life in the wilderness. With power and influence now in their hands, the Pembertons refuse to let anyone stand in the way of their inflated love and ambitions. However, once Serena discovers George’s hidden past and faces an unchangeable fate of her own, the Pemberton’s passionate marriage begins to unravel leading toward a dramatic reckoning.
Release Date: March 27, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are currently two of Hollywood’s brightest stars, her being at the center of the successful The Hunger Games franchise and him coming off of an impressive Oscar-nominated performance in American Sniper. The pair have even struck gold when appearing in movies together, both critically and commercially, with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Unfortunately, Lawrence and Cooper are not invincible, and not even a couple of hot Hollywood A-listers can save Serena.
Set in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina in the year 1929, Serena is the story of a successful lumber company owner named George Pemberton (Cooper) who falls in love with the beautiful Serena Shaw (Lawrence). It is literally love at first sight, with George proposing marriage directly after introducing himself. Serena accepts, and becomes both wife and partner to the business mogul. Claiming that she “didn’t come to Carolina to do needlepoint,” Serena takes a very hands-on approach when it comes to running George’s timber empire. Serena’s presence divides the crew, some being won over by Serena’s competence and ability while others find it difficult to take orders from a woman. As she navigates the waters of George’s business, she learns a few troubling secrets about her husband, both personally and professionally, that threaten to ruin their business.and their marriage.
The screenplay for Serena was written by Christopher Kyle (Alexander), adapted from the book by Ron Rash (The World Made Straight). The film is almost Shakespearian in its structure and theme. There’s plenty of betrayal, backstabbing, conniving, and dying. The plot is rife with mistrust, murder, and broken alliances. There are even a few fun twists and turns along the way. As a story, it works. The problem with Serena is not with the story, it’s with the presentation.
Period pieces are always a little tough to swallow, but Serena really falls flat. Director Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire) tries to capture the spirit of the depression-era southeast, but Serena just feels like a stereotypical movie about a bunch of country bumpkins. Even when significant plot points occur, the movie doesn’t get exciting – there’s no drama, no suspense, no tension. The sole exception comes during a sequence where Serena loses a bunch of blood and George donates some of his own to save her; both characters are hooked up to the primitive medical equipment, silently yet solidly declaring their love for each other. It’s a powerful scene, and the only sign of good acting in the entire film. It’s just enough to give the viewer a little hope – and then, just as quickly as it came, the hope is gone. Serena goes back to being a drab, lifeless series of images on a movie screen.
With a little luck, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper will make another movie together, and with a little more luck, it’ll be with David O. Russell (who directed them in both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) behind the camera again so that they can leave Serena in the rearview mirror where it belongs.
On paper, it would seem that Serena is a can’t-miss with two Oscar-caliber actors in the cast, but both Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper deliver phone-in performances. Because the two main characters are made one-dimensional by the wooden, cue-card-reading portrayals, the entire film suffers from a lack of emotion and energy. Despite the fact that Cooper and Lawrence have worked together before and are good friends in real life, there is zero chemistry between the pair of actors onscreen when their characters are supposed to be in the midst of a passionate marriage (aside from the aforementioned blood transfusion scene). On top of that, Serena takes place in America, but both Lawrence and Cooper infuse weird unplaceable and untraceable accents into their characters, making their dialogue sound even more forced and unnatural. The supporting cast members, a group that includes Rhys Ifans (Anonymous), David Dencik (The Homesman), Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Sean Harris (Prometheus, ’71), and Ana Ularu (Outbound), aren’t bad, but they aren’t really good, either. Every member of the ensemble has been better in other movies, so Serena is probably a film that will be left off of a lot of resumes in the future.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Susanne Bier
- Producer(s): Susanne BierBen CosgroveRon HalpernPaula Mae SchwartzSteve SchwartzTodd WagnerNick Wechsler
- Screenwriter(s): Christopher Kyle
- Story: Ron Rash
- Cast: Bradley CooperJennifer LawrenceRhys Ifans Toby JonesDavid DencikSean HarrisAna Ularu
- Editor(s): Pernille Bech Christensen
- Cinematographer: Morten Søborg
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Signe Sejlund
- Casting Director(s): Jina Jay
- Music Score: Johan Söderqvist
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA