‘Serena’ Movie Review – Doomed from the Beginning
There’s always a scene or two from the best movies that’ll stick with its audience for a lifetime. With the sheer amount of the films asking for our attention, it’s nearly impossible to remember every nook and cranny of every movie. Pivotal scenes will help give a movie staying power and it’s pretty obvious that Serena was aiming to create a memorable final scene or two. Based on Ron Rash’s 2008 novel (which, from what I understand, is pretty dark), the film adaptation clearly focuses too much on its ending to give the movie its due diligence in the beginning. Not even stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence could help save the movie that seemed doomed from the start. It’s a perfect criticism given just how the movie’s plot unfolds.
Serena is the long-gestating tale of George Pemberton (Cooper) and title character Serena (Lawrence) set in rural North Carolina around the time of the Great Depression. The drama focuses on the budding relationship between a timber entrepreneur and his beautiful bride which takes a turn when they find out they can’t have children together.
The premise, given its 109-minute runtime, has a lot of ground to cover in relatively no time. It rushes much too quickly through the beginning of George and Serena’s relationship, starting the plotline off on the wrong foot. Looking back on the movie, its first act has to set up what’s coming near the end of the movie. This has a profound impact on how an audience reacts to anything that occurs thereafter.
On paper, its final act should be the best act. There is a climatic moment that the producers and director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) undoubtedly looked at and started salivating. If they could only get the audience to buy-in to a movie, they’d have a hit – albeit a dark one – on their hands.
Their strategy then turned to esteemed stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. These two are no strangers to one another, having starred in David O. Russell hits Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. It’s worth nothing, though, that Serena was actually filmed in-between these two movies. Still, audiences had to be excited to see these two top-lining the film given the chemistry they’d shown previously.
It’s ultimately unfortunate that this strategy was used because as we’ve seen time and time again, stars can’t make the movie themselves. They can do their best to fill seats but there’s a reason Serena never got its wide theatrical release.
Simply speaking, it never got off the ground. The plot consists of clunky exposition and centers on a relationship that even the Cooper-Lawrence dynamic can’t save. It then slowly meanders into a climax that’s simply not earned.
In layman’s terms, it’s too boring.
It’s easy for an audience to sit back and criticize a movie from afar. I have to give Susanne Bier credit for attempting to construct a powerfully dark film. They generally turn out to be my favorite movies. Looking back on Lawrence’s career, she was catapulted into pop-culture with a similarly-themed film, Winter’s Bone. However, Serena never seems to get itself going and is still hard to justify given all that happens. In this case, the ambition, unfortunately, is about the only thing worth lauding.
Serena released on Video On Demand last month and is now playing in limited theaters. Check out its website here.
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