CGB Review of Serena (2015)

I just realized that this is Bradley Cooper’s fourth appearance on Catholic Girl Bloggin’ (see my reviews for Aloha, American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook). I swear that’s a coincidence, though it doesn’t hurt to see his chizzled face and those baby-blue eyes more than once.

Before I ramble on about my crush on Bradley Cooper, this is my review of Serena!

These two have insane chemistry.

Serena tells the story of timber industrial tycoon newly-weds George and Serena Pemberton.  The film chronicles their passionate marriage, the rise of their logging business, and their inevitable downfall as George must reconcile with his past that involves an illegitimate child with a worker and Serena must cope with a devastating event that shakes the foundation of their love.

So this movie has a very shaky production history.  Long story short, the filming finished up in 2012, but director Susanne Bier took more than eighteen months to edit and polish the final product.  It was submitted to a film festival in London, and then it bombed at the UK box office.  Finally it got picked up by Magnolia and had a limited theatrical release and a VOD (video on demand) slot.  There’s a reason I bring this up, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

I’ve watched this movie twice; once in a hotel and last night on Netflix.  This film is like Courageous; there’s a lot of good stuff here and there’s also quite a few hiccups.

The Hits
I think it’s safe to say that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence should keep doing movies together.  Their performances show that they enjoy each other’s company and love working side by side.  I like that the movie shows us that George is enamored with Serena without having other characters tell us outright, “She fascinates him, can’t you tell?”   The first act shows us how ideal their marriage is; George is tender with her and respects her intellect.  Serena stands by his side and works with him as a competent business partner.  Their relationship is centered around their admiration of each other and the combining of their goals.  Think Ella and Prince Kit from the live-action Cinderella movie if they ran a business together.  The movie succeeds at being an observant character study of George and Serena, these two people who think the world is theirs only to have it come crashing down on them.  All of the performances from the likes of Toby Jones and Rhys Ifans are top-notch, but it’s Cooper and Lawrence who bring home the bacon.  I will admit that after they were so electric as Pat and Tiffany in Silver Linings, it was a little jarring to see Cooper and Lawrence giving subdued performances.  However J-Law is believable as the capable, steeley feminist Serena while Cooper brings out his American Sniper chops as George, a once self-serving man who is softened by his marriage.

The Misses
So what holds this movie back?  Remember what I said earlier about how the director took more than 18 months to finish editing and what not?  Yeah…it starts to show in some of the transitional shots.  After George and Serena first meet, the film cuts to a faraway shot of people dancing, then it just cuts to a close-up of Serena’s smiling face, then it just cuts to her and George consummating their marriage.  Now I’m no film editor, but some of the transitions could have been smoother.  Also because a lot of the actors are attempting late-1920’s North Carolina accents, the audio of their dialogue is hard to hear every once in a while. Finally my biggest issue is that this movie is very, very slow.  Now there is a grace to a movie that is slowly-paced; you get to know the characters more intimately and the movie is allowed to create atmospheric tension.  However the downside is that because the story is taking its sweet time, the conflict that arises lacks a sense of urgency.  I wasn’t invested in the Pemberton’s money troubles or even when one character named Buchanan turns on George because the slow-pacing makes the conflict lag.

Putting aside the techincal flaws, I don’t think Serena deserved the scatching reviews it got from critics.  If I had to rank the four Bradley Cooper movie I’ve reviewed, it would look like this: Gold medal goes to American Sniper, Silver Linings gets the Silver (ba boom pssh!), Serena is given a generous Bronze, and Aloha gets…NOTHING AT ALL!

Saints Felicity and Perpetua, pray for us.

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