Serena is, in a word, baffling. It’s one of those strange films where all the ingredients seem to come together to make something that should be great. Talented actors Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in a film by acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier. What could go wrong? Apparently a whole hell of a lot, as I’m struggling to even comprehend what I just saw.
Set in the Depression era South, Pemberton (Cooper) meets a lovely woman named Serena (Lawrence), whom he immediately weds and brings in to assist him in his logging business. At first, it would seem that film is intent on have two storylines bent on converging: one in which Pemberton is fighting off government attempts to convert his logging land into a national park; the other being Serena’s fight to be taken seriously as a savvy businesswoman in what is ostensibly a man’s world. And yet, by the end of the film’s first act, most of that pretense is dropped, leaving me to wonder why exactly Pemberton’s business and Serena’s intelligence were so excessively established.
Rather, the film takes a hard left into making Serena baby crazy. First she’s desperate to bear Pemberton’s child. Then she is devastated upon losing her pregnancy in a manner that precludes her from ever being pregnant again. And then she goes off the deep end by attempting to kill Pemberton’s former lover and out-of-wedlock infant son, through a convenient enough henchman who believes she saved his life in accordance with some prophecy. So it’s up to Pemberton to save the day, I guess, fighting off the henchman in a climax to a conflict that is only established very late in the film.
Yeah. This is some weird shit.
If there is one thing to point to in how this film goes so awry, it has to be the screenplay. All the dialogue is stilted, melodramatic, riddled with clichés, and just downright awkward. Cooper and Lawrence do their absolute best to make their dialogue sound natural, often resorting to scenery chewing eccentricities to distract from conversations that no two rational people would have. Furthermore, as my garbled synopsis demonstrates, the plotting makes next to no sense, emphasizing scenes of lumbering, high life socializing, sexual encounters, and extraneous subplots that ultimately distract from what (I think) was the film’s intended purpose.
Given the title of the film, I’m assuming that the focus was meant to be on Serena’s tragic downfall from a strong independent woman to being an emotional wreck due to her sterility. Though Lawrence manages to at least sell that as Serena’s arc through sheer willpower (more so than the film’s bizarre script at any rate), this is a painfully one-dimensional representation of a woman lead, reducing her self-worth to her ability to bear children, even though her character is clearly established to have other aspirations. Yes, it is sad when a woman who wishes to have children loses the ability to do so. But that doesn’t mean she will immediately break under the strain of losing her procreative abilities. Give her a bit more credit than that.
Ultimately, Serena is a fascinating film in just how bad it turned out to be. It isn’t even entertainingly bad; I actually found the film rather boring when I wasn’t gawking at its blatant sexism. But the fact that such talented individuals were involved in producing such an obvious flop of a film is simply baffling. Just… baffling.
What films have baffled you with their sheer horribleness? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.