At the back end of the 1920’s in the North Carolina Mountains George (Bradley Cooper) and Serena Pemberton (Jennifer Lawrence), love-struck newlyweds, begin to build a timber empire. Proving herself to be the worth of any man, Serena oversees the loggers, hunts rattlesnakes and even saves a man’s life in the wilderness. But when George’s past returns, the once happy couple soon begin to fall apart as the marriage heads towards a reckoning that will have powerful consequences.
Currently Hollywood’s golden players, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence teaming up would almost stop the film universe such is their star power at present. But who thought it would be a good idea to put these two together in a story about timber? Sure, it’s a different idea and that’s what Hollywood needs to stay fresh.
Sadly, the film lacks the conviction to know what it should ultimately be saying. There is nothing in Serena that makes a statement or pushes the envelope. The building of an empire storyline is dramatically dull, often with big key moments that fail to grab or hold your attention. These business deals should be showing the power and wealth that operates in this couple but it just skims over everything too quickly. It never grounds in a fully-formed emotion of how important this all is in their bid for domination. Historical melodramas need that dramatic impetus to keep the movie interesting to audiences, but Serena lacks that.
So with the building of an empire segments being under-worked, it is left to the romance side of the movie to keep us viewing. But once again, the whole idea of them being a power couple is completely missing. At no point is there a scene where it feels that you would not cross either of these in business or play. Cooper plays George as this quiet timid man who does his talking via contracts, which is completely the opposite of how a man running such a large scale operation would have been. There is no shouting, there is no passion, and there is simply nothing about this character that would make us think he would succeed in a depression-era business.
In fact, it’s left to Serena to be the real power house. A gang busting female that takes the boys on at their own game and wins, yet the film loses sight of what made her the real winner and allows the character to become a wet fish by the end. A shell of the former woman she once was. Lawrence is so much better than this role requires of her. She should have been let loose to do her own power crazy female rather than restrict her so badly.
Serena offers very little character development, even less heavyweight dialogue and virtually non-existent emotional drama. This is one great big misfire that should be put in the timber yard and broken down for fire wood.