Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Serena Review from London Film Festival

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper sure must love working together. After Silver Linings and American Hustle, they are back for another helping of each other in Susanne Bier's depressing Depression-era drama Serena.

It's 1929 in the Smoky Mountains and Cooper plays George Pemberton, a man with a thriving timbre empire who falls in love with the beautiful Serena played by Jennifer Lawrence. The pair are married almost as soon as they meet and while George has to try and stop the local sheriff from turning the forestry rich land into a national park, his wife is easily settling in to the remote lifestyle. George isn't below stooping to bribery (and worse) in order to ensure he can keep cutting down the trees but his past is about to come back to haunt him with a bastard offspring and Serena's own inability to have children complicating matters.

Susanne Bier made the stunning film In a Better World which was Oscar nominated, subtle and unforgettable. Since then she has slipped into Hollywood slop with Love is All You Need and Serena continues her sudden slide into disappointment. When it starts, it looks as though JLaw might be returning to her Winter's Bone roots. The landscapes are lovingly filmed and the production design takes you back to the era convincingly.

But the problems with Serena are mostly with the script, characters and editing. It feels butchered, like someone has taken an axe to it and hacked it to pieces. Cooper and Lawrence meet, have sex a few times in a swift montage and are married. We are told Serena's back story briefly by one character and then she fills in a few more details herself later. It's all tell and no show and neither Cooper or Lawrence manage to create completely convincing characters. Despite Serena's tragic past, it is incredibly difficulty to muster even a shred of sympathy for either character.

The Pembertons are bastards, pure and simple. Selfish, conniving and greedy; you want them to fail. The supporting characters have the potential to be more interesting but are never given any time to develop. What is more, Serena reeks of misogyny. Lawrence may start off as an equal partner to her husband but she is soon deemed worthless by him if she cannot bear children. Perhaps that says more about George than it does about the (anti)heroine but Serena comes across as a spiteful Lady Macbeth style creature with few redeeming features.

Serena looks great but its choppy narrative has purely unlikeable characters that never fully convince despite solid performances from Lawrence and Cooper. Rhys Ifans and Toby Jones offer decent support but maybe its time Cooper and Lawrence had a break from each other.

On the plus side, Jennifer Lawrence turned up at the screening so it was cool to see her in the flesh, because you know... she's KATNISS!!! She even (jokingly?) asked us not to tweet about the film if we didn't like it. Sorry Jennifer, but at least we'll always have The Hunger Games!

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