Serena might have been an earnest film worthy of the hype but somewhere in the process, something went wrong. Yeah, it’s got a respectable cast including two Oscar winners who previously worked together and shared good chemistry, a reputable director who has displayed some visual talent and much loved source material with a decent fan base, and yet what we got was a mess.
Magnolia Home Entertainment | R – 110 min. – $29.98 | June 9, 2015
THE MOVIE – 1.75/5
Serena, based on a bestselling, helmed by an Oscar winning director and starring two actors at the top of their game, one would think it’s the formula for success and bait for Oscar voters. Instead what we get is a mish-mash of themes, loose themes anyway, and an all around dull and boring and shallow film that has very little redeeming value.
The film opens in 1929 Montana. George Pemperton (BRADLEY COOPER) is a timber tycoon whose fortunes aren’t in the best condition and future stake in the Brazil are threaten. The industry is also dangerous with numerous injuries and deaths while some of the locals, including the sheriff (TOBY JONES) who guns for Pemperton and payoffs to senators, are more interested in conservation.
Despite all of his troubles, his life is turned upside down when his eyes are set on Serena (JENNIFER LAWRENCE). She’s no debutante and, as he describes her, a “pistol” and coming from the timber industry herself, albeit tragic as Pemberton’s sister describes in an awkward scene of exposition when her entire family was killed in a massive fire, which she had barely escaped.
Not all is well, however, with her take-charge persona and being named by Pemperton as an equal partner of the company. She ruffles the feathers of George’s longtime partner and friend Buchanan (DAVID DENCIK) who, as time progressed, becomes more and more animus toward Serena to the point of making deals behind George’s back, including selling the mill to the town sheriff (note: there’s a subplot-ish that the mill is in financial straits and they cannot move forward with plans to expand in Brazil).
Eh, there’s more to it but it’s not that interesting though the film does take some unusual twists going from some kind of western drama to outright suspense/thriller by the third act, one involving Serena’s attempts to kill George’s bastard son and mother as Serena becomes more psychotic, albeit for good reason… if only it were edited better.
And that is one of the biggest flaws to Serena: it was poorly edited where scenes not only felt choppy but some of the characters weren’t very consistent. The direction, by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire), has much to be desired although, and I can’t find a whole lot of information on this, she might’ve had the film taken away by producers or at the very least diverge from what was originally intended as a character study that turned into a mish-mash of numerous other genres thus leading to an inconsistency in tone and focus.
Make no mistake, it’s not just the technical aspects but the acting was also spotty. While Bradley Cooper was OK in the lead role, he was hardly anything amazing and for her part, Jennifer Lawrence appeared to be sleepwalking through her performance, notwithstanding lousy editing, and not to mention writing, it’s not hard to see why it was so inconsistent and not altogether believable. And in that vein, despite already appearing as a couple in Silver Lining’s Playbook, the pair share absolutely no chemistry together, yet another ding against the writer and, in particular, director.
If Cooper and Lawrence weren’t used very well, or turned in believable performances, the supporting cast is even more of a waste of talent. Rhys Ifans wasn’t bad as a loyal friend to the Pempertons but he became a cartoonish villain (esque) by the end and Toby Jones only has a couple of scenes and really never was much of a difference maker. The pair, along with a few others, don’t have that much to work with or against which is a shame.
Serena apparently was one of those “watch list” films, eyed for a few Academy Award nominations considering the cast, director and material but instead is a quagmire of a film that lost its way seemingly from the word “Go”. I don’t know if it’s yet another case of a production company messing around with the storytelling or merely misguided filmmakers that just didn’t hit the mark in spite of everything going for it.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.0/5
The initial release comes with a semi-glossy slip cover.
Deleted Scenes (18:51; HD) – There are a handful of scenes cut from the movie and probably for good reason as they only serve to lengthen the film than flesh any of the characters or, such as it is, plot.
The Making of Serena: The Story, Direction & Characters (18:23; HD) provides some behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the cast and crew intercut with scenes from the movie.
Exploring the Production Design and Time Period (9:41; HD) – This featurette looks at bringing the 1920s to life on the screen as practical as possible without using visual effects.
Following the Screenwriting: Comparing the Film to the Novel (5:08; HD) – The screenwriter discusses adapting the novel into a feature film and talks about some of the differences, in particular, on Serena’s change.
Breaking Down the Set: Kingsport Tanners, Train Station & Main Street (4:44; HD) – Here we look at some of the more expansive sets featured in the film.
VIDEO – 3.75/5
Magnolia Home Entertainment releases Serena onto Blu-ray presented in its original 2.39 widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer. Although I can’t say this is the perfect transfer by any stretch where certain scenes don’t quite have the sharpness expected from a newer release, colors do tend to be bright and skin tones seem to be well balanced and a natural appearance. While the transfer itself is clean, I did notice the occasional banding so the transition from colors is a bit choppier. Otherwise, it’s a satisfactory transfer.
AUDIO – 4.0/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is more of the same. Like the video, I can’t state this is anything extraordinary but it gets does get the job done. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear throughout while ambient noises, such as trees being chopped, the sound of a train or idle chatter are relegated to the front and rear channels. Having said that, this is also not an entirely dynamic or depth-filled track, I never quite got the oomph during scenes that one would think would take advantage of an HD quality track.
OVERALL – 2.75/5
Overall, Serena might have been an earnest film worthy of the hype but somewhere in the process, something went wrong. Yeah, it’s got a respectable cast including two Oscar winners who previously worked together and shared good chemistry, a reputable director who has displayed some visual talent and much loved source material with a decent fan base, and yet we got a mess of a movie that squandered everything going for it.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.