I don’t get it. I don’t understand what the point is to Serena. The film doesn’t grab its audience by the heart or by its plot — in fact, it doesn’t grab them at all. It’s a drab, dull, and artless film that’s been chopped together so sloppily as to avoid giving its characters arcs or allowing anyone to act in a way that is in any way logical. There’s a reason that the film, shot in 2012, isn’t getting a release in America until early 2015: it’s not good. The 18-month post-production process was unable to salvage it.
The film’s title might make you think that Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) is the film’s protagonist. This is not the case. It instead is lead by George (Bradley Cooper), a man who runs a timber business. George isn’t really a good person, as we see for the film’s first hour. Mostly this is presented to us by seeing him do shady business deals in order to keep his competition from building a park, but there’s also an “accidental” murder just in case we weren’t getting the message. In one of the earliest scenes, he sees Serena riding a horse and two scenes later has married her.
Serena, with her un-dirtyable golden locks and headstrong personality, should be the film’s lead and most interesting character. The scenes when she takes charge — especially given the film’s Depression-era setting — are the film’s best, simply because getting to see a woman do this sort of thing in this time period can be seen as progressive, and it’s kind of inherently fun. Who would’ve guessed she eventually becomes a horror movie villain?
I’m kidding, kind of, but that’s more or less what Serena degenerates into by the time all’s said and done. Why? I wish I could tell you. There are a couple of incidents that might point to this if the characters and plot had any sort of arcs to speak of, but since that isn’t the case, we’re left to just guess as to why these characters act the way they do. Most curiously is how George, not a nice guy, is suddenly the most sympathetic man on the planet — but only in the last 30 minutes, and he becomes such at random.
Characters come and go as they please, there are barely any personalities attributed to these characters beyond the minimum, and since there’s no progression it’s impossible to become attached to any of them. It’s bad at a script level and even worse when it comes to the editing. I feel like there might be a story of how a director as talented as Susanne Bier made something as bad as Serena, but we’re unlikely to ever hear it. Let the speculation begin.
There are spots of brilliance, primarily in the production design and the cinematography. At the very minimum, Serena is a good looking film. It might have been sliced together without any consideration for plot and characters, but it was shot well and designed to be authentic. You do feel like you’re back in 1929 North Carolina. That’s about the only positive that Serena has, outside of perhaps unintentional comedy that one might get from watching it play out. There are some laughs here.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have now starred in three films together, although this one was filmed second, after Silver Linings Playbook and before American Hustle, even though it’s getting released last. They’ve shown great chemistry before, but that’s not the case this time around. Both are simply “okay,” which basically means that they’ve done the bare minimum to save face, but aren’t going to be putting this one high up on their portfolios, if it’s included at all. It makes sense that Serena isn’t getting a December release in America, since it wouldn’t be receiving any Oscar nominations anyway.
Serena is a boring mess. One has to wonder how it became this bad. There’s talent both on-screen and behind the camera, but it only very rarely shines through in the finished product. The plot is a disaster, the characters have no arcs or progression, meaning later actions make no sense. It’s a well-shot and designed film, but that’s about as positive as one can get when talking about it. This is not a good movie.