Shot between Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle , Serena sadly represents the runt in the recent litter of Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper couplings. Every bit as exciting as a story of lumber milling in Depression-era America sounds, Susanne Bier’s adaptation of Ron Rash’s 2008 novel starts off dull and ends up risible. Not bad going for a film that includes a miscarriage, death by mountain lion and Rhys Ifans getting his hand cut off.
Cooper is George, a newlywed timber tycoon inspired by his Lady Macbeth-like bride (Lawrence) to eliminate all those who would turn their acres of forestry into a national park and scupper their dream of building a new life in Brazil. Before you can say The Log-Father, George is axeing treacherous underlings like saplings – with a little help from Ifans’ glowering saw-mill heavy, a man who, for reasons perhaps better explained in Rash’s original, believes it’s his destiny to do whatever Jen bids him.
Considering that includes attempts on the life of Bradley’s illegitimate lovechild, you’d think there’d be enough here to generate some decent melodrama. Alas, the end results are very small Bier indeed, for all the grandeur of DoP Morten Soborg’s forest-scapes and game contributions from a mostly British ensemble (Toby Jones, Douglas Hodge, Sean Harris).
J-Law in particular looks woefully at sea, convincing neither as the upstart interloper Serena initially appears nor as the teary headcase she becomes on discovering she can’t give George an heir. Cooper, meanwhile, has the distracted air of a fellow who’d rather be somewhere else. Talk about not seeing the wood for the trees.