George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is the head of a timber empire in Carolina in the 1920s. Love has eluded Pemberton, but that all changes when he meets the beautiful and passionate Serena (Jennifer Lawrence). The two set about making Pemberton’s business even more successful, by any means necessary, but it is not long before their choices come back to haunt them.
Based on Ron Rash’s novel of the same name, Serena is an examination of love, lust, loyalty and corruption… Or it would be, with a stricter edit and some different choices.
It is fair to say that Jennifer Lawrence is passionate about Serena, for it was she who convinced her Silver Linings Playbook co-star, Bradley Cooper, to join the cast. Lawrence gives her typical strong performance, but she is thwarted by some strange directorial choices and sloppy editing. Bradley Cooper’s character runs a smoother course and, as always, Cooper is engaging and powerful on screen. The rest of the cast is made up of Rhys Ifans sporting an odd accent, Toby Jones and Ana Ularu.
Christopher Kyle’s screenplay is incredibly muddled, and is never really sure what it is. First it is the story of a strong woman who can make a dent in a man’s world – and train eagles! GASP! This slowly gives way to a story of corruption and murder, before becoming almost a parody of itself in the final act when Serena loses the run of herself after a tragic accident. Kyle’s story starts well enough but completely dissolves Serena into a caricature of a strong woman, or a woman at all, and has a panther-ex-machina moment when things get too messed up. Also, the Pembertons have enough on screen sex to put the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey to shame, sex that feels gratuitous since it has little bearing on the story at all.
Susanne Bier’s direction is competent, but she quickly loses her way when trying to incorporate too many plot points into the story. The film is incredibly badly paced; it seems that some stricter editing would have cleared up the story and the speed of the tale in one fell swoop. Morten Søborg’s cinematography, however, is absolutely beautiful.
In all, Serena tries to be all things to all viewers, but ends up being a mess. Tighter editing and a more coherent script could have cleared the whole thing up, but as it stands, the film tries to make a comment on America of the 1920s, but just ends up reminding us that all women are mental. At least I think that’s what the payoff was, I stopped paying attention and just watched the cinematography.