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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Serena

I want to preface this review by being very upfront. Serena is a terrible, terrible movie. Bad as in, across-the-board-consensus, I can't think of anyone who would think this is a good movie. Just broadly disagreeable stuff. But let me also say this: Serena is not bad for the reasons you probably think it is. It has a whole lot of tricks up its sleeve that are incredibly fun to talk about.

So let's talk about it.

Serena is a depression-era film helmed by acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier, and takes us on the epic journey of a fellow named George Pemberton, an ambitious timber baron who attempts to build his empir...gggggggggggggggggggg (that's the sound of me falling asleep as I type the synopsis). This is the part where you probably think this movie is boring and nothing happens. A-ha! Here's where you're wrong.

First of all - Serena is a weird, weird thing. It's a car crash of talented people making terrible choices. It's also some kind of cinematic Frankenstein;  pieces of two not-great movies sewn together to create a new breed of monster. It was shot back in 2012, post-Silver Linings Playbook, with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, but was held in post-production hell for more than two years. These two have chemistry, right? They're both great actors, nominated for Academy Awards, right? And then you've got Susanne Bier, who directed In a Better World, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Surely that can't go wrong?

I'm going to go into full-on spoiler mode now, so if you somehow at this point still want to see the movie and be surprised, go away. You. Shall. Not. Pass!

I'm not going to talk about Cooper's terrible Boston/Southern/British/Australian morphing accents, the lack of chemistry, the terrible acting, the bad writing. I don't need to talk about any of that. Instead, let me just summarize this film for you. Or these films.

FILM 1: 
George Pemberton is a man who likes to hunt. He wishes he could finally hunt and kill an elusive panther. Probably a metaphor. We move on. George meets Serena, an heiress whose family all died in a fire. He rides up to her on horseback and announces he plans to marry her. They marry. They come home. An 8-month-pregnant lady walks up to George and he immediately realizes he got someone pregnant before he got married. But Serena's like hey, don't worry about it. So everything is cool.

Meanwhile, George is trying to be really good at chopping down trees and becoming an industrious timber baron, but the government keeps stepping in and trying to preserve the forest. He tries to be good at what he does and a good person, but begins to realize he'll have to sell his soul to keep his business alive, and commits all sorts of crimes to succeed. Serena helps him with the business, showing how industrious she is and that she's also willing to do what it takes to get ahead. Then Serena gets pregnant and everyone is really excited.


While Serena is pregnant, she's walking around and surveying their timber empire when she sees one of their men get his hand cut off by a saw. She saves the man's life by tying a tourniquet around his hand. The man explains that his mother told him about a prophecy in which a woman would save his life and that it has come true, so now he is Serena's servant. 

Serena has complications in her pregnancy. She's fairly far along when she tragically loses the baby. She's inconsolable. This part is pretty genuinely horrific. 

Serena goes through George's things and notices he's been giving his out-of-wedlock baby and baby's mother (the one she already knew about) money. Basically voluntary child support to keep them afloat. She gets SUPER PISSED. 

Post-tragedy, Serena turns into The Baby Terminator. 

Serena enlists the help of that-guy-she-saved-via-prophecy and explains that they need to go kill that other baby so she and George can be happy again. He obliges, because prophecy. They go hunting for the baby and its mother. George finds out and saves the day and saves his baby. 

Then George goes hunting and a panther mauls him. He's dead.

The police come by to arrest him for his crimes back from Film 1, but they're like "Oh nevermind he's already dead by panther." 


That's it, folks. That's all there is to say. Do you slow down when you see an accident on the side of the road? Or do you speed up? See it? Skip it? The choice is yours.  

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