Movie review: ‘Serena’ is a waste of talent

What It’s About

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have undeniable chemistry, as we saw in “The Silver Linings Playbook” in 2012. They also made another fine movie together a year later, “American Hustle.” But their third coupling, “Serena,” is a turgid waste of talent and time.

Adapted from Ron Rash’s period novel about a newlywed couple building a timber empire in the North Carolina mountains during the 1920s, screenwriter Christopher Kyle (not the “American Sniper”) has fashioned an overwrought melodrama that strains credibility.

Danish director Susanne Bier ( Things We Lost in the Fire”) has not managed to convey lucid subplots, and the result is a dreary, dull exercise with little substance and lack of focus.

Tragedy lurks, exposing secrets and altering their perfect landscape. The couple has some serious issues, no matter how successful they appear.


Even actors as talented as Oscar winner Lawrence and three-time Oscar nominee Cooper can be in a bad movie, and they seem miscast from the get-go, playing stereotypes found in a histrionic romance novel. Strong in contemporary works, the couple do not seem suited for a historical environment.

Their characters’ ambitions and emotional turmoil are their tragic flaws, and neither’s star power can salvage this messiness from sinking.

Fine British actors lend support - Rhys Ifans as Galloway, Toby Jones as a sheriff, and Christian McKay as a banker.

What Works

The film looks good, but something’s askew — Lawrence’s platinum blond wig and Cooper’s strange accent are misguided choices.

The natural beauty of the setting, and the excellent cinematography can’t make up for a ridiculous exercise.

What Doesn’t Work

Not sure what tone the director was going for, nor what she tried to accomplish, but it is a frustrating film to watch, given the appeal of its leads. It is also darker than you might think, and gorier.