Directed by Susanne Bier.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans and Sean Harris.
In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of a timber empire becomes increasingly complicated when its owner marries.
What a strange Serena Williams biopic this is. There’s practically no tennis.
In its place are breathtaking panoramic shots of the Smoky Mountains. They live up to their name; there’s smoke everywhere. It creeps up hillsides, engulfing trees and wildlife without discrimination. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere: losing sight of your original intention, getting pulled under by the personal, how unedited versions of these landscapes should be uploaded as desktop wallpapers – they are truly majestic, for which cinematographer Morten Søborg deserves considerable credit.
It’s just a shame the rest of the film gets in the way.
Serena is an overwrought, poorly structured melodrama that works against its characters’ relationships. Individually, the players are solid – Bradley Cooper’s corrupt timber baron, Jennifer Lawrence’s increasingly paranoid Serena and a supporting cast of excellent British character actors (Rhys Ifans, Sean Harris and Toby Jones) – but the dynamics between them are sapped of both authenticity and nuance . The period piece’s language could be better scripted (see the Coen Brothers’ dialect in True Grit) and the tone more varied (a few moments of genuine humour would have helped endear the characters’ plights), but the movie’s main flaw exists in the fundamentals: its structure.
George Pemberton (Cooper) begins a bachelor, passionately devoted to his timber company. In a rare trip away, he meets independently minded Serena, falls madly in love, has a number of saccharine, candle-lit sex scenes and marries. This all happens within the film’s first ten minutes, prompting excruciatingly forced exposition lines like, “She’s beautiful, but wounded…” Pemberton and Serena’s is a montage romance.
It pushes empathy through cliché rather than letting it grow organically, so when Serena eventually goes all ‘Lady MacBeth,’ you don’t all that much care. A more 50/50 split in romance and tragedy could’ve worked – especially because the performances and subplots (corruption! bribes! murder!) do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Instead, you’re left with Pemberton both sparing a dog and saving a man’s life in the opening scene. It’s Nicolas Sparks, route one stuff in the beginning – your sexually frustrated mum’s Summer holiday reading – which quickly becomes insufferably melodramatic. The film was shelved for two years while its distributors figured out what to do with it. They should’ve just uploaded those wallpapers.
Want to make up your own mind? Then order the movie here in the UK.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★