Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones
Shot in 2012 and then marred by disastrous post production issues, “Serena”, adapted from the best seller and directed by Susanne Bier, isn’t the best work from Cooper (“American Hustle”) or Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”). Marking their third time on screen together, “Serena” once again puts Lawrence back in Western North Carolina where she first became Katniss for “The Hunger Games” series. While “Serena” takes place deep in the Smoky Mountains, it was actually shot in the Czech Republic and Denmark, near director Bier’s homeland. “Serena” doesn’t have the authenticity or the passion “Cold Mountain” did, another Western North Carolina book to screen adaptation. Great cinematography and entertaining performances from Cooper and Lawrence do however, make this worth watching.
The Smoky Mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina contain the last virgin forest in the States. Logger George Pemberton (Cooper) has come to town, set up business and given the local community jobs, dangerous as they may be. On a trip to Colorado he meets and marries “beautiful & wounded” Serena (Lawrence), who becomes as much of a partner as a wife. Previous indiscretions with a local mountain woman begin to cause problems for Pemberton and his new bride. Serena has no quarrel with the way her husband does business, even happy to aide in his corruptive methods as long as their love remains strong.
One of the film's most interesting aspects is exploring how threatened the logging community is by a female with equal authority as her husband.
“I assure you I didn’t come to North Carolina to needlepoint,” Serena explains to Pemberton’s constituents. One of the film's most interesting aspects is exploring how threatened the logging community is by a female with equal authority as her husband. Sadly, the screenplay is more interested in a depression era soap opera story that can equate to a modern day corporate scandal.
Bier makes some artistic choices that greatly differ from the book, but it’s pretty easy to spot the editing patchwork in the film, as scenes are chopped up and shortened because of sound issues during filming. Part of that cover up includes stunning foggy mountain range scenes that constantly remind the viewer of the haunting location and the dark secrets hidden within the mountain ranges.
The time period, the corruption and the characters have a lot of interest and appear to be ripe for screen translation. Screenwriter Christopher Kyle (“Alexander”, “K:19 Widowmaker”) is an unable to adapt Ron Rash and this ends up being like all the other failed screenplay adaptations he has done.
Lawrence has proved since shooting “Serena” back in 2012 that she was a great choice for this part, even Cooper gives George dimension. However, the actors can only do so much with a screenplay and a production that was apparently out of the filmmaker's control. Considering where the film begins and ends story wise, there isn’t enough in the film version to tie the two ends together in a plausible manner.
Cooper & Lawrence shine in a misguided film.