Bradley Cooper? Check. Jennifer Lawrence? Check. Outstanding Oscar-worthy film of the century? Don’t make me laugh. While Serena has all the makings of a beautiful yet tragic love story – amazing on-screen chemistry, gorgeous period clothes, a tragedy Shakespeare himself would be proud of – it is probably the worst movie I have seen so far this year – that’s including John Wick. Its journey to distribution is best described as an odyssey, and proves there are people far smarter than I who know not to watch this garbage. Not only is JLaw grossly miscast as the psychotic, infertile, and possessive wife of a timber baron, but the plot moves at an unbearably slow pace that you actually find yourself begging for mercy. The film follows the story of a young man (Bradley Cooper) who, upon marrying the seductive and mysterious Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), withdraws to the rich landscape of the American forest to continue managing his expanding empire. Things between the obsessive couple sour, however, when she suffers a miscarriage and can therefore not bear any children. Serena withdraws, and her husband finds himself drawn to the lovechild he had long before he met her, yearning for fatherhood. The film is, in theory, a great testament to the changing nature of relationships and shows that obsession and love are not the same thing.
Now I love JLaw – who does not love zee JLaw? – but she has yet again become the victim of overly-zealous casting directors hoping to have awards thrown at them for casting a beautiful and entirely capable young actress in a role meant for someone years ahead of her, and with a helluva lot more acting chops to draw from. Does it really surprise anyone that she – 20 when the film was made – struggles to convey the psychosis of finding oneself unable to have children in the ‘30s and isolated in a huge forest, forced to confront the lovechild of her husband daily? Not bloody really. The first half of the film follows her from a distant, “she’s not like other girls”, lens. This is totally bearable, but things start to go downhill when the director, Bier, asks us to start taking her seriously. Insert multiple shots of JLaw drinking, staring into a fire and dramatically turning over tables. At no point do you sympathize with her, either as a woman, a victim or a wife. Within a character driven piece like this, that is practically murder.
But I think the real bee in my bonnet with this film is how it tries to romanticize what could otherwise have been a really gritty and truthful account of not only a relationship going sour, but also a woman struggling to overcome what is expected of her, and break free of what she feels as an obligation to her husband. Never does Serena talk about having a child to fulfil herself: it is rather to give her husband what he wants, a son. This film could have been a great examination of the male ego, and how women so frequently suffer at the hands of society, but instead Jennifer Lawrence plays, yet again, a crazy beotch with mildly laughable crying face (see Kim Kardashian for example). Her husband never truly pays the price for what he has put her through – instead ignoring her once she becomes of little use to him – and I think we all know that Bradley Cooper is better than that. It feels like such a pity that two great actors couldn’t have had more complimentary performances; instead, it often feels like we are watching two different films. And things start to feel a little bit lonely when you realise they are really the only characters in the film, and that you don’t like either of them.
Unfortunately, I think it all comes down to Susanne Bier. Every opportunity the film has to change your mind, and ask you to take the cast seriously, takes an almost hilarious turn. In reality, it honestly feels like Bier had a vision and resisted the input of her own actors. It just teaches you that brilliant actors and a visionary director do not always make a great movie.