wed 21/08/2019

Serena | reviews, news & interviews

Serena

Serena

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper reunite. What can possibly go wrong?

'Practically an aborigine': Jennifer Lawrence as Serena

If you make a film about logging, you better be sure the audience can see the wood for the trees. When Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper lead a cast, usually they can do no wrong. Alas, where Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle offered wit, surprise and characters to root for, such qualities are in meagre supply in Serena. Timber!

Cooper plays Pemberton, a logging entrepreneur in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and, as played by the Czech Republic, they do indeed smoke and shimmer in many a lingering panoramic shot. It’s the start of the Depression, so Cooper is short of cash but, rather than marry an heiress, he falls for Lawrence's penniless pert blonde from Colorado.

“She’s practically an aborigine,” he’s warned. Indeed, Serena is the sole survivor of a conflagration that killed her entire family of woodsmen, and her flame-proofed resilience soon shows as she prances about camp talking excellent horse sense. She even imports an all-American eagle to keep an eye on the local snake population, and that's kind of how she sees her role as her husband's new business partner. Pemberton’s colleague and co-investor (David Dencik) is less of a fan. He’s all for selling up the land to the state rather than continuing to bribe the local senator for protection, so Serena orders his execution and, thanks to the silence of witnesses, gets away with it. It’s not the last time she sees murder as a cure-all for marital anxieties.

Bradley Cooper in SerenaAdapted by Christopher Kyle from a novel by Ron Rash that will mean nothing to anyone this side of the pond, Serena is packed full of carefully arranged incident but weirdly devoid of dramatic consequence. An hour spent in the wooded piazza of log cabins on stilts and you start to wonder: is this Albert Square in disguise? It’s certainly full of British character actors. Rhys Ifans plays a mystical huntsman, Toby Jones a sheriff with an erratic accent, and Sean Harris, last seen mumbling in Jamaica Inn, is still at it as a forelock-tugging foreman. One small sign that this film isn’t all it set out to be is a wordless one-second cameo for Kim Bodnia, whose loveable mug lit up The Bridge.

Serena is, among other things, an unfortunate addition to the rollcall of European directors coming a cropper when given American gigawatts to play with. Susanne Bier, who asked such intriguing moral questions in In a Better World, has not located the beating heart of a B-movie melodrama about a star-crossed marriage, and presides over a risible denouement. Cooper, so persuasive in lighter material, doesn’t quite have the chops to flesh out conflict and crisis. If this is Lawrence’s audition to play Lady M, it falls flat. She does everything the camera asks of her. She can leak all the lingeringly captured tears she wants down those puffy cheeks, and even mean it when tediously the script keeps asking her to say “I love you”. But Serena is a bit like the baby who doesn’t make it out of the title character’s womb alive. Stillborn.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to Serena

If this is Lawrence’s audition to play Lady M, it falls flat

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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