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Rated 3.02 stars
by 321 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Overwrought Melodrama
by Betty Jo Tucker

Like an angel, Serena glows,

gold hair shining, as each strand flows.

The handsome George falls hard and fast.

But will their love be true and last?


She wants power equal to him.

His business pals think it’s a whim.

He goes along for quite a while.

He loves his wife. She makes him smile.


When jealousy enters the plot,

the film becomes too overwrought.  

And great co-stars, so fine before,

lack appeal we’ve come to adore.   


Still, never fear. They’ve earned our trust.

Another chance seems only just.  

Because I greatly admire Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper for their delightful work together in Silver Linings Playbook, I was hoping to feel the same way about their Serena performances. Sadly, this failed to happen. Although they both look gorgeous in this period piece, the necessary co-star chemistry didn’t materialize despite some steamy sex scenes. Perhaps it’s the dreary story that made them feel uncomfortable. Or maybe the jumbled way of telling it on screen. On the positive side, Jennifer never looked better than in her glamorous close-up shots here (think Jean Harlow or Marilyn Monroe at the top of their game.) Her fans should enjoy that part of the movie, at least.

Directed by Susanne Bier (Things We Lost in the Fire) from Christopher Kyle’s (Alexander) adaptation of Ron Rash’s novel, Serena takes place during the late 1920s in North Carolina's mountain country. Most of the action occurs in a timber operation run by George Pemberton (Cooper), an ambitious entrepreneur trying to expand his business. One fateful day, George sees a lovely vision -- Serena (Lawrence) riding a white horse -- and he goes after her. Love at first sight, for sure. Why wait to learn more about each other? They get married right away.

Serena should be George’s perfect partner. She knows timber! And she puts her knowledge to work overseeing the Pemberton loggers. But, remember, it’s the 1920s. A woman’s place is in the home, etc. George’s right-hand man, Buchanan (David Dencik), doesn’t like Serena’s involvement at all. Plus, there’s Rachel (Ana Ularu), an employee George has been intimate with. Serena tries to repress her jealousy, but things get out of hand because of Rachel’s child and Serena’s deteriorating emotional/mental state.

And so the stage is set for betrayal, obsession, brutality and -- you guessed it -- murder! Too bad everything appears disjointed. With a more coherent story, Serena could have been a fascinating period drama similar to Original Sin, which paired Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas (be still my heart!). 

Still, the movie boasts a splendid sense of time and place, thanks to first-rate production values and Morton Soborg’s (After the Wedding) impressive cinematography. Serena may be an overwrought melodrama, but it’s also a visual treat.            

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have not read the source material.

(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated “R” for some violence and sexuality.)

For more information about Serena, please go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.

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