Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are becoming quite the onscreen couple since appearing together in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and as part of the all-star ensemble cast in ‘American Hustle’. Oddly enough, Serena was made before the release of both those films, with production running from March to May 2012, but a host of production and scheduling issues delayed its completion until 18 months later, so it’s actually a coincidence, but it definitely allowed them to market the film as including two well-known, Academy Award recognised actors.
This could also have affected the film adversely however as the producers try to make sure their two big names get most of the screen time, and this is a shame as it has a supporting cast featuring the likes of Toby Jones, Rhys Ifans and Sam Reid who seem like they could certainly be larger parts of the story. Jennifer Lawrence excels in her role as the titular character, giving her a gravitas and a sense of power, convincing the men around her that she can definitely get the job done. Her obsessive love with Bradley Cooper’s character is also played wonderfully by her as she’s loyal and unflinchingly on his side but unhinged and overly protective too, which juxtaposes nicely with her calmer air when dealing with animals where she has a very serene quality, keeping you on edge about her character and what she’s capable of.
The film works best when it makes use of its setting, and cinematographer Morten Søborg does a brilliant job of bringing it to life, with the trees and the general forest land feeling like part of the support cast. Set in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee but filmed in the Czech Republic, it’s amazing how the cinematography manages to get that feeling of America from a place that is so distinctly un-American, but Søborg’s work and the set design definitely do that.
It’s unfortunate then that despite the performance of Jennifer Lawrence and the brilliant camerawork the film just doesn’t quite hang together. Director Susanne Bier has made regularly great films often in her native Denmark, with works like ‘After the Wedding’ and the Pierce Brosnan rejuvenating ‘Love Is All You Need’ standing out, so it boded well and it does have moments where it feels like you’re watching something great, but those scenes or shots are fleeting and don’t quite manage to elevate a story that’s been told many times before.
Ultimately it doesn’t give us enough to really care about the characters or the community beyond an appreciation of the way it’s all captured, and that’s the major flaw here. ‘Serena’ just doesn’t really engage, and feels oddly jagged at times, like it’s trying to be about a few things at once, when it should just give us a deeper insight in to its characters. One wonders what the original film, if this isn’t it, would have looked like, because the fact that this is so disappointing is a real shame.
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