March 5, 2015
Of all the new releases this week, this film caught my attention because of the powerhouse casting of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in the lead roles. This is already the third film with Lawrence and Cooper together after "Silver Lining Playbook" and "American Hustle", both of whom gained Oscar recognition. I had no idea what this film is going to be about, but I had very high expectations about its story and quality because of the stars. Unfortunately, I was wrong on both points.
Set in the forests of North Carolina during the Depression. "Serena" tells the story of George Pemberton and his burgeoning lumber business. One day, he met and married firebrand Serena in a whirlwind. Serena is not your typical wife who was happy just minding the house and cooking for her husband. She started off confident and savvy, getting involved with how the business was run and getting her hands dirty in the field with the lumberjacks. But after a tragic personal misfortune, Serena would teeter at the edge of madness.
I thought Bradley Cooper should have been well-cast as George Pemberton. He had the right look and temperament for the role. Strangely though, it somehow felt like he was embarrassed and lazy to do certain scenes such that the passion for acting we know him for was missing. This was especially true for the third and final act where he seemed like he was just going through the motions. His performance was lukewarm at best,and that was unfortunate since we know he can do much better.
Jennifer Lawrence was miscast as Serena. She looked ill-at-ease the whole time. She was overacting most of the time and it was not comfortable to watch. Her childbirth scene alone was shrill and unbearable. When I saw the mountain and forest setting, I thought of the film which launched Lawrence to popularity, "Winter Bone". Unfortunately in "Serena", Lawrence had none of the subtle nuance she showed in that film which earned her an Oscar nomination at a very young age. Everything she did in "Serena" was so loud, practically shouting at the audience.
The overstuffed script by Christopher Kyle tried to incorporate so many sub-themes into the main story, making the film feel so much longer than its 109 minute running time. It was so heavy, you can feel the extra weight all around. While some scenes were going on for too long, others felt too abbreviated and rushed. The whole film wallowed in melodrama so thick it was a chore to wade through.
This was disappointing because director Ms. Susanne Bier had the distinction of being the only female Danish director who had two films nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, "A Better World" (2010) and "After the Wedding" (2006). With "Serena" though, she was unfortunately unable to tame the unwieldy script efficiently. She failed to whittle down the excesses to create a more streamlined and coherent film. The story was certainly there, but it was storytelling that did not deliver. 4/10.