Directed by Susanne Bier.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Ana Ularu and Sean Harris.
In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of George Pemberton’s timber empire becomes complicated when it is learned that his wife, Serena, cannot bear children.
There’s an old saying – “You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig” – and what we have in Serena is a pig in lipstick and a dress and high heels. It’s nothing more than a depression-set soap opera minus the camp appeal.
This is a film which loses its appeal in the first fifteen minutes, that vital window of opportunity where any half decent screenplay should have the audience in its grasp, and never regains its momentum rendering it pretty essentially DOA. Set in the Depression but looking like actors playing dress-up on location, Serena looks, sounds, and feels false and unauthentic from the start; at times the digital look is distracting, especially when the frame rate is slowed down, which takes us out of the reality, if indeed we were ever in it. Unless you’re Michael Mann, you don’t want your period piece looking like a modern film, especially if it’s an unintentional act. The same can be said for the dialogue which clearly wishes to be rooted in 30s and 40s melodrama but here it is fooling no one and never convinces as being authentic.
The film has no identity of its own as it tries in vain to be an ‘empowered woman’ drama whilst juggling plotlines about family, madness, murder, and financial worries, all of which never engage us for they are spread so thinly across the 110 minutes. The only positive can be said for the film looking like some 70’s revisionist piece with its deep blacks and natural use of lighting, reminiscent in some degree to Vilmos Zsigmond’s work in The Hired Hand or McCabe & Mrs Miller but comparisons to those films ends right there. Certainly the film looks good, in no small part to that beautiful cinematography which reminds us of far greater movies, and the locations outside Prague which stood in for Smokey Mountains (which, unless I did my research I would never have known the difference) but looks can only get you so far. Just ask the pig in lipstick.
Stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do their best with flimsy characters but when it’s one step up from a soap opera, we mostly feel sorry for them for no one is truly invested in the film, most of all the audience. Serena is a mess of a film and if it were not for the two names on the poster this would be straight to VOD and forever ignored. Take my advice and keep it that way.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter