Arts Review, Movies
Susanne Bier, director
Chistopher Kyle, script based on the novel by Ron Rash
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Serena), Bradley Cooper (George), Rhys Ifans (Galloway), Sean Harris (Campbell), Toby Jones (Sheriff McDowell), David Dencik (Buchanan), Ana Ularu (Rachel)
Brilliantly cast together in Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper display genuine screen chemistry in Serena, Susanne Bier’s new American melodrama. In fact, they’re so good as a duo that it now seems bizarre that David O. Russell put them in American Hustle but never had them play a scene together. Serena would be nothing without Cooper’s confident, fast-talking character playing effortlessly off Lawrence’s quieter, more contained persona. Other critics have already compared Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s screen personas to such legendary couples as Clark Gable and Joan Crawford and Gary (no relation) Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Those are hard acts to follow but Cooper and Lawrence are—realistically—in that league.
In Serena, Cooper and Lawrence are the Pembertons—a couple who fall in love at first sight. Both are wealthy but Serena (Lawrence’s character) grew up tragically, the only survivor of a fire that killed her parents and siblings. George Pemberton (Cooper) whisks Serena away from idle society life in Boston to North Carolina where he is amassing a fortune in the lumber industry. At first, all is golden as the couple inspires more work and camaraderie out of their motley rural crew. Serena even trains an eagle so that it kills the snakes that are harming their workingmen.
Soon, though, things go wrong. George’s partner Buchanan resents Serena, unraveling what had been a tight friendship. The local sheriff, McDowell starts investigating George for fiscal improprieties. George’s former local lover, Rachel, shows up at the labour camp after having his baby, asking for a job. The men become tense due to all the friction.
All too quickly, Lawrence’s Serena, initially a tough, gorgeous aristocrat turns into a conniving femme fatale. Cooper’s George remains resolute but does Serena’s bidding, leading to death and deceit. A film that started out as an epic depiction of American capitalism and romance let loose in the 1930s rural South becomes a fraught and incoherent melodrama.
Serena has a lot going for it: expert cinematography, a unique locale in rural North Carolina (actually Rumania, but still gorgeous) and that great Lawrence-Cooper chemistry.
Sadly, it all doesn’t add up. Unless you’re a huge fan of Lawrence or Cooper—or both—Serena should be missed in the cinemas. But let’s hope for more collaborations of the two, with better scripts.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.