Depression-era melodrama from Susanne Bier featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper
Serena Pemberton (Jennifer Lawrence) is a strong, independent woman. We know this not just because of her actions – moving to the wilds of Depression-era America with new husband George (Bradley Cooper) to become an equal partner in his logging company – but because we are reminded, loudly and frequently. 'I didn't come to Carolina to do needlepoint,' she helpfully explains. 'The men must know that the woman tamed the eagle,' she posits, when single-handedly training said bird to kill snakes. Feathers are ruffled, both literally and figuratively, but Serena remains stoic in the face of myriad opposition. Until, that is, the most personal of tragedies threatens to derail her dreams.
Strong female characters being something of a rarity in cinema, Serena initially had great promise, anticipation augmented by the chemistry of its stars and the unquestionable accomplishments of Danish director Susanne Bier. (Indeed, Bier's other recent effort, A Second Chance, has similar themes of relationships operating under extreme duress, but is a masterwork of unmatched bravery.)
Unfortunately, however, Serena is treated with such heavy-handed self-awareness that its story and characters are given no room to breathe. In adapting Ron Rash's novel, screenwriter Christopher Kyle (K-19: The Widowmaker, Alexander) casts aside subtlety and nuance in favour of brash, broad strokes. Clunky metaphors have a choke hold on the narrative: a subplot involving George's obsessive hunting of a panther, for example, doesn't so much underscore his predatory relationship with his wife as gouge it into the screen, and gives the film its farcical denouement.
With its sweeping themes of gender equality, family, fertility and depression – both emotional and economic – Serena had the potential to be a cinematic high flier. Yet it is so convoluted, so bogged down by its own sense of worth, that it simply collapses under its own weight.
General release from Fri 24 Oct.