3 Acts from 3 Different Movies
Serena is directed by the Oscar winning director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) and is the third 'Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper' film combination (the previous two being SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and AMERICAN HUSTLE). Lawrence is an Oscar award winning actress (Silver Linings Playbook) and Cooper is multi-Oscar nominated (the latest nod being for American Sniper). 'In Depression-era North Carolina, the future of George Pemberton's timber empire becomes complicated when he marries Serena.' - IMDB. Will this be the 3rd amazing film from Cooper and Lawrence?
I really really wanted to like this film - when I saw that it was sitting at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, I was quite disappointed and more cautious about the film. However, after watching it, I think that this kind of score is quite worthy. Serena is a very slow, confused and jumbled up movie. I actually think this is due to very poor direction from Susanne Bier - as I am located in the UK, I bought the DVD and on the box it says 'From Academy Award Winning Director Susanne Bier' - when researching Bier, she didn't actually win in the best director category but her film won in best foreign film - this is very misleading. I don't think Bier actually has much experience in creating mainstream films that have a worldwide appeal as Serena comes across as a lot more independent and niche than Silver Linings and Hustle.
The actual plot of Serena is very odd. The film starts off as a romance which I thought 'ok I can deal with this'. The second act then turns into a boring 'Of Mice and Men' style plot and then the third act is much more entertaining - it is like the film is split into 3 shorts, nothing really fits in and flows well. However, there were some parts of this film that I really really liked. I thought that the symbol of the panther is hard to spot but is very effective. The following may contain SPOILERS: At the beginning of the film, Pemberton (Cooper) wants a panther to be able to shoot. The next scene is him watching Serena (Lawrence) on a horse. Pemberton also gets told that a panther kills you by ripping out your heart - Serena and Pemberton fall in love which means she has access to his 'heart'. This theme continues throughout the whole film. Eventually, Serena finds out some of Pemberton's secrets and teams up with Galloway and send Pemberton into the woods where he gets killed by a panther. I think that Serena symbolises the panther and vice versa. Also, I like how Serena ran away from a fire when she was younger but let herself die in a fire in the end. These were elements of the story that I thought were clever and effective. However, the 'twist' was very predictable. Also, in some ways, this film is basically a toned down and dated 'Fifty Shades of Grey' - anytime they can, the characters are having sex. This feels random and unnecessary. Also, I believe that this film may as well have been called Pemberton not Serena as much of the screen time goes to him not Serena.
I also had a major issue with the editing of the film - it was done in a very messy way. 12 minutes into the film, Serena and Pemberton are married after going to a dance and having sex once - I think the film could have gave a little more detail in these places. Also, the timing is very uneven throughout the film - some scenes will be 20 minutes long and only be one day and then the next scene will be 3 days later and only 5 minutes long - it was hard to tell whether it was the same or a different day. However, the film was shot beautifully and the production design was great - I really got the vintage feel. The score was also pleasant and fitted well with the theme of the film.
Even though this is by far the weakest instalment from Cooper and Lawrence - they are not bad in this movie. At times they have terrible lines to say (thanks to a bad adaptation of the original screenplay) but they manage to get into the characters very well. In years to come, they won't look back at this at there best movie but they won't look at it as their worst either. Lawrence is a fantastic actress and Cooper is really growing on me with every film he makes. The chemistry is also very notable and believable - the jealous and greedy moods that are created are very effective (thanks to Lawrence and Cooper). The rest of the actors in the film are quite mediocre and not fantastic. SPOILER: When Serena was going through her miscarriage, I did feel pain and sorry for her which suggests that Lawrence did a good performance which made her easy to connect to.
Serena isn't a great or good movie. It has one of the most jumbled plots that I have ever seen. From both sides of the camera, the academy have noticed all of the talents work. However, Lawrence and Coopers good performances can't save them from poor direction from Bier. The movie is nice to look at and has some really clever themes. Despite all of its pros, the cons counter them all - Serena is one I advised you skip unless you are forced to watch it.