North Carolina mountains at the end of the 1920s - George (Bradley Cooper) and Serena Pemberton (Jennifer Lawrence), love-struck newly-weds, begin to build a timber empire. With power and influence now in their hands, the Pembertons refuse to let anyone stand in the way of their inflated love and ambitions. However, once Serena discovers George's hidden past and faces an unchangeable fate of her own, the Pemberton's passionate marriage begins to unravel leading toward a dramatic reckoning.
Having watched the opening twenty minutes, I was in two minds as to whether to stop the film right there or struggle on. It was a terrible opening - rushed in the pacing, unclear at setting out either the plot or the characters, and punctuated with several totally gratuitous and feeble sex scenes.
I decided to struggle on, but at the 45 minute mark nothing had improved and I gave up. Not even Jennifer Lawrence could save this clunker.
From the novel of the same name by Ron Rash, comes the 2014 film Serena. With leads Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, you would imagine the film to be great, but despite their combined talent, it falls short. That is why I give it a, perhaps generous, three out of five stars.
Serena takes us back to North Carolina in the Depression-era. George Pemberton (Cooper) works in the very dangerous timber business. People get hurt, and money isn’t always flowing. George then meets and marries Serena. The couple face many trials, including Serena being unable to bear children. Serena goes from stunning wife, to homicidal, setting out to murder the woman who bore George’s illegitimate son.
The problems with this film are not the acting. Jennifer Lawrence was her usual degree of awesome. Her transformation from twenty-four year old, to looking so classy in her thirties, was flawless. Her fame has continued to skyrocket over the last few years, and it is inspiring to see that Lawrence has not rested on her ‘law’rels - sorry, bad pun - and has chosen different roles to play. The film definitely would not have been the same if the role had gone to Angelina Jolie as originally announced. The entire film would have been a bust. This is also not the first time Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have worked together. It was Lawrence who read the script and asked Cooper to join, and their chemistry is what makes their films so popular. Cooper is a great actor in his own right too. He was phenomenal in Silver Linings Playbook, but the story here let him down.
‘Era’ films and television shows have been very popular lately. Downton Abbey and even the first Captain America film, for example, have made people look back fondly on that time. Thankfully, we are not seeing the same time periods over and over again, and the timber business is not something I have really heard alot about.
Things like the scenery, props, and sets were beautiful. They fit well with the time and gave it an authentic look and feel. The cinematography also matched the grandeur of the scenery perfectly.
The thing that let the film down, was the story. It was formulaic. It was the generic boy-meets-girl story, but its other plot lines became like a hodge-podge of story. It was easy to get lost and I am not sure whether it was the failings of the screenplay, or issues from the novel.
Online and in-print reviews have been mixed to negative. Comments have been mainly targetted towards the film in general - including its story, character progression, dialogue - with the only positive reviews being made in regards to Lawrence’s performance.
I don’t see this film being a multi-award winner, but there are sure to be some people who find it enjoyable. For me, the story was dull but it did have the occasional redeeming moment.