Serena

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Love In a Time of Bore

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

Dust-licked North Carolina aches and trembles under the oppressive weight of the depression. In the shadow of a land dipped in sadness comes an irascible, headstrong businessman with his eyes set on timbre. His employees are lacquered in sweat and exhaust, but no problem will keep the aforementioned entrepreneur from rolling up his sleeves and forcing his hands into the belly of coarse earth. Bradley Cooper plays George Pemberton, the man with the affable grin and unflappable personality; an entity whose brick and mortar sensibilities earn him the ire of many (are you asleep yet?). In fact, Pemberton is so dapper and whip-smart that he earns the trust and love of a woman named Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) after one three-minute scene. The two become coiled around each other, suddenly, as if the projectionist lost a reel of film. The editing looks like it was done by an errant fan blade. Director Susanne Bier is a far better director than this film would suggest, but when approaching this particular period picture, it seems like she consulted a toy magic 8 ball before every scene. At least half of this movie is comprised of Bradley Cooper sponge bathing Jennifer Lawrence in a tub, while engaging in a prosaic conversation. Even Jacques-Louis David, the artist of Death of Marat, would say, “this is too much.” Think the tub scene in Harmony Korine’s Gummo was too long? Wait until you see this movie. Even Marlon Brando spent less time around a bath in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. Maybe Bier had a deal with Home Depot.

Throughout the film, double-crossing friends twist their Snidely Whiplash mustaches and pug-like sheriffs glower and seethe. The actions are present, but they don’t feel accounted for. Serena’s downfall may be due to the fact that the costumes do not seem lived in. 1830s North Carolina feels like a community college play. Bradley Cooper looks like he’s internally convincing himself to not tear off his wardrobe and storm off of the set. This has to be the worst period picture since John Irvin’s abysmal Hemingway’s Garden of Eden or Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts. Almost all of the actors come off as too contemporary. You can put a pocket watch on an iPhone and I wont believe it owned a timbre company in the 1800s. You cant simply dress something or someone up.

There’s also some weirdness in understanding Cooper’s accent. In one scene he speaks like a 1860s Boston police officer. In another he sounds like he’s from the depths of the bayou. In another he has no discernible brogue or inflection at all: It’s like he’s in his trailer spinning a bottle on what accent he should use next. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence is a non-entity for the first time in her career. This makes her performance in House at the End of the Street look like an Oscar contender in comparison. During her screen time she leans over furniture or lets the lighting dictate her mood. I can imagine Bier giving her direction on set: “Lean, assertively, against that fixture. Cast a shadow against that wooden chair. Clutch that pillow. Drum your fingers on that table.” Most upsetting about Serena is its moribund running time. I cannot remember a movie so slovenly paced in all of my life. Imagine staring at a still life painting of an apple for four hours, and you’ll understand how inert this film is. Bier will have better films ahead of her, but Serena – opening today at La Jolla Village Cinemas – should have the Alan Smithee moniker all over it.

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Author: Rob Patrick

A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, Rob created Cinema Spartan after he stepped down as the editor of a weekly. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. He has also introduced films with the Pacific Arts Movement. He co-owns two dire wolves, Buckley and Ruffin. At any given time, he can tell you superfluous hockey statistics. He is the chancellor of Tapatio, an advocate of iced tea, and an owner of at least 70 pairs of Vans.

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