Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s Serena has gone straight to video before its release, according to Popcrush. The story is about a romance with two great people. There’s a lot of talent in this film.
It begins in the Smoky Mountains, North Carolina, 1929. Pemberton (Cooper) is a brassy schmuck in the woods, running his low-level lumber company. There’s some sort of New York accent on him, but it’s too hard to place. There are accidents, and the company seems disorganized and fiscally irresponsible, but he’s making a living among men. Enter the exotic Serena (Lawrence). She’s on a horse, so she must be wild! And Pemberton has a thing for hunting, specifically some sort of elusive panther! The metaphors these two are playing with are perfect.
We get unconfident fades, in and out. An elegant ball. A love scene. Some fancy stairs. More lovemaking. Smiles. And then, “Our love began the day we met,” Serena proclaims. Smooch. Wow, these two got married inside of four minutes of screen time? God, buy her a present or say she’s a babe or at least do something with each other besides a montage. Where’s the grand, sweeping romance? It would at least make all the plot twists and bloody revelations that follow more acceptable.
Serena is a whirlwind romance with tragic consequences, but therein lies the problem. This love in a time of splinters dashes into the woods with Lawrence and Cooper and their tragic period romance, according to Philadelphia Daily News. They’re so thinly built, so rushed into construction, that it’s no wonder the whole thing feels like a melodramatic shed and not a lodge of emotion. Metaphors aside, let me put it this way: Serena is inconsequential, stilted, and likely being shoved out right now on streaming services due to Cooper and Lawrence starring in the two highest domestic grossing films of 2014. Why not? This thing wasn’t going to make more than $30 million in theaters, right? One, it’s musty and difficult to market. Two, word-of-mouth would likely not have been an option given the shoddy work on display.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence embrace Serena with righteous theatrics as their quick, simpatico love for one another goes to hell in a wicker basket. Cooper goes for lummox-like naiveté as Serena becomes his Lady Macbeth. Cooper’s a kind of playboy looking for a great woman to guide him, but again, this has to be inferred at light speed rather than explored. Lawrence, on the other hand, is simply too young for the weathered, know-it-all Serena. Remember those complaints about Lawrence’s age being a problem in American Hustle? Here’s a film where she truly struggles with looking wise beyond her years.
These two titanic actors have the will and hunger to play these characters, but the roles are badly heaped upon them. They’re better with stoic heroics (American Sniper, The Hunger Games) or manic intensity (their work with David O. Russell). Regional theater and moody disdain might not be in their wheelhouse, but props to them for at least trying. It’s a problematic production. Perhaps the talent is too great, or the motivation behind the story is too weak. Must we simply watch these two torture each other and fail to live up to their own surreal courtship?
Everything is staged competently enough, but it’s all bark in a forest for the trees. Susanne Bier is so possessed with her stars that she carelessly structures a busy plot around them (although one suspects it was chopped down in post). The story suffers from slightness. There’s never a great moment, an earned “I love you,” or a deep revelation. When Pemberton’s best friend and confidante wants out of the operation early on because of how threatening Serena seems, it’s not a shock, or a big move — it’s to be expected in this kind of power struggle. When Pemberton quickly states “I think we should be married” with a smirk, it plays strangely. What about Serena’s secretive past and terse demeanor? All trinkets to gussy up an otherwise underdeveloped performance.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are great in Serena. It’s a texturally romance of complicated love in a woodsy time. Serena pares down when it should go big and take its time. If anything, this may be the model OnDemand movie. However, the movie isn’t that bad, notes Forbes.