Friday, April 3, 2015

"Serena" Review - Written by Jim Herling

You would think, given the trend the last few years in Hollywood, that it would be really hard to make a bad movie starring either Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper. You would especially think it would be next to impossible, given their cinematic history together, to make a bad movie starring both of them. Yet that's exactly what director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Christopher Kyle have done. And they somehow managed to do it while working from a New York Times best-selling novel by Ron Rash.

Serena is the story of George Pemberton (Cooper), a timber baron in North Carolina who is struggling to keep his empire alive during the Great Depression. Like any wealthy single man of the time, he's taken on lovers, like the young woman at his timber camp, Rachel (Ana Ularu). That all changes when he meets Serena Shaw (Lawrence), who he instantly falls in love with and almost as instantly marries. As the film unfolds and she begins to help him run his empire, they exhibit the most passionless marriage and lives I've ever seen. Not because it's written that way; no, there are plenty of sex scenes between them meant to depict their passion, but in the place of actual characterization and romance it fails. Cooper and Lawrence do their best, performing admirably as they steer their wholly unlikeable characters through a relationship that quickly devolves to include jealously, an illegitimate child, and some truly great Lady Macbeth levels of treachery; unfortunately the writing and directing are so bland and uninspired that it's too much for even two actors as talented as they are to overcome. And there is very little help to be found in the supporting cast; Toby Jones is memorable for no other reason than being Toby Jones, while Rhys Ifans is a scene-stealer as the superstitious hunter and tracker, Galloway, who eventually becomes Serena's willing henchman. The rest of the folks involved are forgettable.

And ultimately, "forgettable" is the best Serena can hope for in terms of how it's viewed. Because if it's remembered at all, it'll be as a movie that failed when failure should have been impossible, and that's a legacy nobody wants. For the acting of Lawrence, Cooper, and Ifans (who might have been the best I've ever seen him), I'm giving it a combined 1 star out of 5 and vowing to never watch it again.

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