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    Bit to Do

    Jennifer Lawrence Stars in Susanne Bier's 'Serena'
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    Our planet is quickly eroding in the face of industrialization. Population continues to grow, and accordingly our resources continue to dwindle. As the truth of climate change is finally accepted across the political spectrum and the issues facing our environment become ever clearer, it is something of a strange experience – bothersome to certain sensibilities – to see a film in which the protagonist is a lumber baron with dreams of expanding his operation to the lush and profitable forests of Brazil.

    Serena is the second film released this year to feature Bradley Cooper in a rather disturbing role – the other being the uncomfortably pro-war American Sniper – but whereas that other was truly offensive in its depiction of its subject matter, Serena manages to present itself merely as an intriguing story about compelling characters, even for those of us who consider their raison d’etre troublesome and destructive.

    Serena is the most recent release by Susanne Bier, who won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011 for her film In a Better World. (You may have also seen the remake of her film Brothers.) The film’s screenplay, written by Christopher Kyle, is adapted from the novel of the same name by Ron Rash.

    Bradley Cooper stars as George Pemberton, who runs a timber operation in 1930s North Carolina. He is highly successful at his job and has a firm goal in sight: the acquisition of land in Brazil for serious expansion of empire. He meets Serena, played by local favorite Jennifer Lawrence, and decides immediately he must marry her. Serena, whose father was a logger and who grew up amongst the men felling trees, is not only a wife to Pemberton, but a partner, proving herself equal as any employee to the demands, both physical and intellectual, of the job at hand. However, Pemberton has baggage from his past, both business and personal, which threatens his livelihood and his marriage; meanwhile, Serena is battling her own demons, and when the conflicts clash, everything threatens to fall apart.

    Serena marks the third pairing of Cooper and Lawrence. Their chemistry was perfect in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook; after another successful pairing in American Hustle, it was actually Lawrence who sent the Serena script to Cooper after signing on, asking if he would co-star with her. Serena sees these two actors once again forming a near-perfect union in the portrayal of their characters and their relationship to one another. Cooper as Pemberton is driven, nuanced, and mature – he has come a long way from big-budget Hollywood joyrides such as The Hangover and Limitless. Lawrence, meanwhile, has wowed audiences – especially here in her hometown – since bursting onto the scene in 2010 with Winter’s Bone. Her performance as Serena is assured, bursting with confidence as she settles in to this character, making the audience sincerely uncomfortable, or something close to it, as her character darkens in the fact of conflict and controversy, leading to a gripping climax.

    However, as enthralling as the acting is (praise is also due to the silently intense performance of Sean Harris as the ruggedly solitary logger Campbell), the film suffers somewhat in its actual execution. There are multiple conflict points within this film, and the handling of them comes across as a bit jumbled; ultimately, the conflicts become entangled and their relationship is made clear, but for the bulk of the film, the narrative seems to be about one thing, which it promptly forgets in the exposition of another. It is acceptable for a film to switch tracks; however, it feels at times like shoddy filmmaking when one track seems to be not only irrelevant, but seemingly abandoned, culmination of plot points aside. The story seems scattered, and for a large portion of the movie, it is not entirely clear what exactly the story is about.

    It is, nevertheless, an intriguing narrative, one which is thankfully carried along by its strong cast and the stunning, haunting visuals of North Carolina’s forests and woodscapes, shot competently in dark, brooding tones which lend an ominous air to the film. Serena currently holds a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but this should not dissuade anybody from seeing it; the source of general ire from the critics is clear, but it is nonetheless a compelling story, intriguingly shot and competently acted.

    Village 8 is currently showing Serena as the most recent entry in the Louisville Exclusives series, bringing art, foreign, and limited-release films to our city. I feel the need, however, to provide a note on the viewing experience. The projector used in the theater which showcases the Louisville Exclusives is inadequate to its needs; the picture is consistently dim, which is difficult to ignore in a film featuring such dark tones and coloring. More bothersome, however, was the fact that for several stretches, the film ran at a faster rate than it should. This was highly bothersome and distracting, and when I went to inform the staff of the issue, upon re-entering the theater, the problem has ceased – I gathered I had not been taking terribly seriously, and the problem was not fixed, and in fact recurred several times. In short, the theatrical experience is inadequate. The film is, however, available on several VOD platforms – try Amazon or Google Play or VUDU.

    For those who wish to attempt the theatrical experience, Village 8 is located at 4014 Dutchmans Lane. Complete theater information can be found at the Village 8 website.

    Image courtesy of Internet Movie Database

    Allan Day's picture

    About Allan Day

    There are legitimate theories that the Big Bang originated from the collapse of a black hole in a fourth-dimensional universe. This stuff fascinates me, and I love reading about it. I love reading about science. And about anything, for that matter, provided it's interesting - and everything is potentially interesting, so I'm fascinated by a lot of things. I also read a lot of fiction (Kurt Vonnegut deserves deification) and watch a lot of movies (Charlie Chaplin also deserves deification). I've made a few short films myself. I'm also a writer of everything - I'm close to a Bachelor's in English at IUS. My life consists of reading, writing, bartending, and taking care of my daughter full-time. Life is busy and life is stressful, but that's why there's music and art and other forms of relaxation.

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