Take a Drink: for damn silliness
Take a Drink: for music
Take a Drink: whenever soldiers do something unsoldierly
Take a Drink: for each new story of Ormond’s husband’s death
Take a Drink: for weird math noises
Take a Drink: “Look, gypsies!”
Do a Shot: whenever Julia Ormond screams
By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
After two multiple Oscar-nominated team-ups and twin meteoric rises outside of them, it seems like Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper can do no wrong. So, the soon to be released drama starring the two of them in an Oscar-winning director’s (Susanne Bier- In a Better World) adaptation of an acclaimed novel is a no-brainer, right? Well… it was shot two years ago… and is being released in February.
Serena stars Cooper as a wealthy timber baron who was a beautiful, but damaged young woman who comes from a logging background herself. They whip his North Carolina operation into shape, but the National Parks Service (seriously… a villain, or an antagonist at least), Cooper’s illegitimate child, and a panther on the prowl provide the ingredients for inevitable tragedy.
Serena, even though it’s reproducing Smoky Mountains in Eastern Europe, does boast some nice period details and production design, and the transition shots of the mountains and forests in different seasons and times of day are often gorgeously shot. Cooper’s ambiguously accented, fast-talking Clark Gable persona is something new for him, but not unwelcome, and his charisma alone carries some scenes that would’ve fallen flat outside.
As for Lawrence, even when she’s a poor fit for a role, she’s always a radiant, singular presence. Her potential and present greatness comes from her instincts, which often surprise, like in a small choice she makes here after she’s been beaten and humiliated in the street in front of much of the town. As her lover leaves, she gives a small, almost involuntary wave goodbye, a pathetic attempt to save face, and perhaps a delusional try at dismissing what just happened. It communicates so much, but seems almost spontaneous and entirely unique. Watch out, Meryl Streep.
Still, she’s just not right for the role. She’s simply too young and fresh for this rural Lady MacBeth role. Angelina Jolie, with Darren Aronofsky directing, was the original iteration of the film,and gives you an idea of the mix of gravitas and high camp that Serena shoots for, but which Lawrence can’t quite deliver.
Imagine her as Malificent. Now you see.
Lawrence is the least of Serena‘s problems, however. Some scenes have some surprisingly ugly digital photography that seems almost like unedited stock or deleted scenes wedged into the narrative, and there are more than a few instances of clumsy editing and montages. The horseback riding scene where Lawrence first catches Cooper’s eye is particularly rough, as is the subsequent falling in love montage with its passionless, boring sex scenes and cliche imagery. This stinks of studio interference… or for Bier’s sake at least, I hope there was studio interference to blame.
The script does practically everything wrong- subtext presented so overtly it’s just “text”, dialogue-driven exposition, and some hilariously on the nose lines. “They need to know it was a woman who tamed the eagle.”
In the end, despite its many laudable elements, Serena ends up being a lifeless drudge. Its rhythms are just off somehow, with nothing, not the romance, not the tragedy, not even the drama that Cooper and Lawrence seem to be able to manufacture out of thin air in other films, building up like it should. In the end it seems like Bier had no thesis or clear approach for the material, and the proof’s in the pudding.
At least I hope it’s pudding.
Serena is much less than a sum of its considerably appealing parts. It’s a damn shame, because in the right hands, with an appropriate pace and a subtle touch, this really could have been something.