Awards Profile: Serena



Directed by: Susanne Bier
Written by: Christopher Kyle

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Ana Ularu

Synopsis: George and Serena Pemberton (Cooper and Lawrence) is a newlywed couple who move to the North Carolina Mountains where they own a timber empire.  The Pemberton’s flourish during the peak of the Great Depression in a business sense, but Serena is a force to be reckoned with.  The discovery that she can’t bear children coincides with the revelation that George has fathered a child with a local girl (Ularu).  Serena cannot bear to be bested in anything and thus decides to remove the girl, and the child she doesn’t own.

Why It Could Succeed:

The secret ingredient is Jennifer Lawrence playing a character who is equal parts frightening, empowering, and calculating.  Lawrence’s brand of villainy’s been over-the-top in previous outings and if the script corrals the character from becoming camp, preventing Serena from becoming a female Snidely Whiplash, Lawrence could prove she’s got true villainess potential.   The movie also reteams Lawrence with Bradley Cooper and the two previous times they’ve acted opposite each other has resulted in awards for both (Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle).  At the least, the movie should garner nominations for its period costuming and the rugged landscaping of a Depression-era mining town, causing it to do well in the technical categories.  Susanne Bier’s never received an Oscar nomination but is acclaimed in Europe for movies like Brothers, After the Wedding, and In a Better World.  Any nominations for her would put another notch in the female director nomination slate.

Why It Might Not Succeed:

serena600There is a lot, and I do mean a lot, working against this movie.  The movie was shot in March of 2012 with the original release date capitalizing on Silver Linings Playbook and Lawrence’s turn in The Hunger Games.  The movie took 18 months for Bier to finish and was later due for release at some point in 2013 before being delayed again.  Last year it was reported Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company were interested in distribution but there’s no distributor of note listed on the film’s IMDB profile (certainly not Fox or TWC) and the only release dates are European.    Those lucky to have watched it in various screenings report the movie isn’t that good, and why are we surprised considering screenwriter Christopher Kyle’s last screenwriting job was on Oliver Stone’s Alexander?

And of course there are the issues with the movie’s quality and acting.  Serena was originally envisioned with Darren Aronofsky at the helm and Angelina Jolie playing the titular character.  We’ve certainly come a long way from there.  When I read the book two years ago I envisioned Lawrence in the finished product…as Rachel, the woman who bears George Pemberton’s bastard child.  The role of a small-town girl looking for a better life and now running in fear for herself and her child easily fit Lawrence, especially in 2012 with Winter’s Bone fresh in my mind.  As it stands now, Jennifer Lawrence is far from the Serena of author Ron Rash’s text.  This is a woman able to command men, live in a rugged mining town, and chop down a tree like Paul Bunyon!  Do you see Jennifer Lawrence doing all that?  And let’s not forget the central conflict of the movie: For all Serena’s accomplishments, she can’t bear children.  A twenty-three-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, infertile?  Providing further confusion is the casting of Romanian actress Ana Ularu as Rachel.  Rachel is the symbol of American opportunity to Serena’s American materialism.  And yet Ularu is actually older than Lawrence?!  My issues stem from reading the source material – which I heavily endorse – but audiences who already disagree with the aging of Lawrence in movies will be turned off more by this premise.  The role of Rachel is just as strong as Serena and though it may not be the lead it’s just as worthy of Lawrence’s time.

I doubt the casting of Lawrence is what damns Serena.  The fact it’s been in the can for so long, coupled with weak preview screenings and the unsettling script looks to have sunk the boat already.

Awards Speculation:
Production Design (Richard Bridgland)
Cinematography (Morten Soberg)
Costume Design (Alice Cortes Kheilova)
Makeup and Hairstyling (Graham Johnston)