Monday, March 2, 2015

A Reel Review: SERENA

Filmed over two years ago and then shelved while distributors decided what to do with it, Susanne Bier’s adaptation of the novel SERENA finally sees a quiet release. It has all the ingredients of a perfect recipe; an Oscar-winning director, an acclaimed novel, and a pair of actors who have worked together before with great success. But just like any other list of ingredients, what really matters is how it’s all mixed together.

In Depression-era North Carolina, George, an irresponsible timber-baron (Bradley Cooper) marries Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), a headstrong woman with experience in logging. As Serena struggles for respect in the male-dominated business, George’s money troubles mount along with issues with his illegitimate son; drawing attention from the Sheriff (Toby Jones) and local thug (Rhys Ifans). 

SERENA sets itself up as a morality tale about the pitfalls of greed. George and Serena are both cut from the same cloth as they will both go through great lengths to gain everything and even greater lengths to protect it. The film guides the couple through episode after episode of financial woes, a love-child, blackmail, murder, and sexism in the workplace in the 1920’s. The episodic structure becomes the first misstep for SERENA, as the film struggles to find a real connecting thread. The narrative comes off as clunky as chapter after chapter opens and closes just as quickly as it arrived, and SERENA winds up with no real objective or its own definition. When a movie tries to be about too many things, it winds up being about nothing. 

Director Susanne Bier, who once won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, presents a beautiful looking movie with lush landscapes and excellent lighting, but struggles with the limp-ass script which gives characters very little to do or work with. No character has much to accomplish and nobody makes a connection to the audience, and it doesn’t take long to not give-a-crap about anybody or what happens to them. And for the apparent dangers the characters keep finding themselves in, there is never a feeling of real tension or dread. 

Acting is a big ball of ho-hum. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who have proven they can generate fireworks with each other in the past, don’t generate enough spark to light a candle. Neither actor seems to know what they are supposed to be doing as their accents drop in-and-out and their interactions with each other go nowhere. Rhys Ifans basically mumbles his way around, and Toby Jones sleepwalks his way through. 

With all the problems the film as, none of it compares to the ending…which is one of the most ridiculous, eye-rolling, head-shaking, vomit-inducing, gut-busting resolutions ever filmed. It is so stupid and laughable it makes the rest of the choppy and bland movie look like Shakespeare. And after all that, you eventually realize that the title of the movie has nothing do with the character it is named after. Yes, SERENA has all the promising ingredients; but ingredients only taste right when they aren’t mixed in a toilet. 


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