"I never thought I'd find you, I never thought I'd find anyone."
Serena feels like it should be something artistic rather than a film with A-list stars like Bradley Cooper and Jenifer Lawrence who have become the hottest screen couple in recent years as a result of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Apparently Serena has gone through a vigorous editing process and a lengthy wait for Susanne Bier’s next picture. Is it worth it, well…
In an America crippled by the Great Depression a privileged landowner gambles everything to create a timber empire. His partner, a spirited woman named Serena. But as their relationship and business hopes deteriorate, romantic jealousy, ruthless ambition and a horrendous loss leads to a fall into madness.
I was expecting this to be a romantic melodrama. I would like to say that it was the attitude I held for most of this film until a sudden but inevitable fall into tragedy. I say inevitable because right from the start the eventual fate and point of the tragedy seems obvious. The film therefore fails to intrigue or grab the audience at any point. I can’t help but think that originally the film focussed more on the community and was changed when its two stars were thrust into the limelight. That suggests that a broader film is out there with Serna but instead it chooses to concentrate its focus for commercial reasons.
What you’re left with is quite a flat, if not very good looking drama. The director doesn’t seem to know what to do with her two stars. This was filmed before their breakout roles and at this point it appears that they were used for their looks more than anything. There are more sex scenes by the fireplace than the amount that seems necessary, which in this context appears to be none. Lawrence does a decent job but considering the standard of her other performances decent is quite possibly the worst way to describe her other roles.
Although I really enjoy almost everything he does Cooper just doesn’t fit this role. He’s supposed to be playing a damaged character but there’s no grit and harsh nature behind the charm. He just looks like a nice person pretending to be nasty. It’s impossible to root or connect with anyone either. The characters lack the morality that allows us to relate to them and fail to understand what they are going through. It also struggles to rack up any tension whatsoever.
Some haunting and effective cinematography can’t hide the almost comically overwrought nature of Serena. The soundtrack is also appallingly bland, there’s no punctuating or poignant moment in the film and it lacks anything that will make it standout. The narrative becomes hard to be invested in and above all else you simply do not care.
Serena gets tangled in its own artistic merit as well. If this was some subtitled piece with an unknown cast it would appear to be a wonderful subtle romantic tragedy. But the film is too commercially centred to pass itself off as a triumph of art.
The most annoying thing is that there is a constant feel of compromise. It crumbles under its own commercial and artistic weight and fails to go I its own separate way. For most of this film I was just left wondering what it could have been rather than what it is trying to be.