Even Oscar winners make mistakes. Meryl Streep starred in “She-Devil.” Daniel Day-Lewis camped it up in “Nine” and “All About Steve” was a career nadir for Sandra Bullock. Now its Jennifer Lawrence’s turn to appear in a movie that will one day be best remembered as an entry on IMDB’s Bottom 100 list.
Lawrence plays the title character, the ambitious wife of George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper), a lumber baron struggling to keep his business afloat in depression era North Carolina. A miscarriage drives a wedge between them, a rift exacerbated by financial trouble, betrayal and the arrival in town of a son George fathered by another woman.
“Serena” has all the makings of an epic story. Imagine “There Will be Blood” built on a base of timber instead of oil. Betrayal, jealousy, murder and money swirl around the central characters, but instead of combining to create a compelling narrative the elements collide in a big bang of schlock. From the broad southern accents to the dirt-smeared Rhys Ifans as Serena’s violent lap dog, everything about the movie verges on caricature.
The reteaming of Cooper and Lawrence after their “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” success proves that lightening does not strike thrice. The duo had chemistry to burn in their previous pairings but fail to set off sparks here. As George and Serena they are ruthless and selfish, which should be the stuff of interesting characters, but the story throws so many hurdles their way that eventually it becomes one big, boring blur.
Add to that director Susanne Bier’s habit of shooting everything in intense close-up and you have a far too up-close-and-personal look at some of the least captivating characters to come down the pike in some time.
In the big picture “Serena” isn’t an all out disaster, but because of the above-the-title talent involved it is a major disappointment.