Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper headline Danish director Susanne Bier’s English-language drama as a Depression-era couple running a timber empire in North Carolina. Adapted from the Ron Rash novel, the period drama has a top-drawer Hollywood cast, Oscar pedigree and an internationally renowned director at the helm. Filming wrapped in 2012 and yet this year’s London fest marked the film’s world premiere. So what took so long, and was it worth the wait?
Director Susanne Bier gave TOH! the exclusive dope back in Toronto. Read excerpts from that story (in full here), plus the first London Film Festival reactions, below. Magnolia premieres the film stateside on VOD in February, followed by a limited theatrical rollout in March.
New York Magazine: “Nothing in the film is worthy of either admiration or outrage, which perhaps explains its absence from a festival circuit increasingly defined by extremes of taste and quality. The howls of critical revulsion that met Larry Clark’s ‘The Smell of Us’ at Venice, or that Adam Sandler shoe-repair movie at Toronto, roused interest in two films that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Despite a billing block that boasts two of the hottest stars in Hollywood, ‘Serena’ could only dream of inspiring such fervor.”
Variety: “An arrestingly nihilistic Depression melodrama, marked by courageous performances and exquisite production values, this story of a timber-industry power couple undone by financial and personal corruption nonetheless boasts neither a narrative impetus nor a perceptible objective. The result is both problematic and fascinating, an unsympathetic spiral of human tragedy that plays a little like a hand-me-down folk ballad put to film. It’s not hard to see why a U.S. distributor [was] slow to step forward.”
THR: It would be uncharitable to blame Lawrence and Cooper for this half-baked excursion into retro-noir romance, since both give performances with more depth and texture than these star-crossed lovers deserve. More blame lies with Christopher Kyle’s script, a string of jarring cliches and clunky attempts at subtext, including a heavy-handed hunting metaphor that recurs with wearying regularity. Johan Soderqvist’s cloying, imploring orchestral score is also at fault, constantly straining for an emotional grandeur that Bier’s low-voltage melodrama simply does not earn on its own merits. More disappointment than disaster, ‘Serena’ is nothing to Tweet home about.”
The Playlist: “It’s possible that, underneath this mess (running a little under two hours), there’s a version of ‘Serena’ that at least makes more sense. As is, scenes and transitions are choppy and awkward, characters go underdeveloped or unmotivated (Ifans’ mysterious hunter is a particularly puzzling case), and story developments are sprung with little warning or are just poorly told to begin with. Perhaps there was post-production interference, but the finished film is borderline incompetent. On this evidence, Bier seems to have lost the ability to tell a story.”
So why the delays? “Once it finished shooting we’ve all been busy,” Bier told Anne Thompson exclusively in Toronto, which invited “Serena,” but the stars weren’t available. “I’ve been doing another film [TIFF world premiere ‘Second Chance”]. Cooper and Lawrence were super-busy, just doing the [post-production sound recording] has been tricky. She had only one day off in two years!”
Read the rest of the story for intel from Magnolia Pictures president Eamonn Bowles. Trailer below.