If you can only see one Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper-starring movie, make it Silver Linings Playbook. If you can see two Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper starring movies, then watch American Hustle. And if you can see three Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper-starring movies, go back and re-watch Silver Linings Playbook.
Actually, this is a tad unfair. The biggest issue with Susanne Bier’s Serena is not its watchability. There are some fascinating aspects of the film, though these accomplishments strangely do not revolve around its leads, both of whom turn in uneven performances. As businessman and logger George Pemberton, Cooper affects a weird accent, possibly Bostonian. His George becomes almost like a version of his Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy, rendering his portrayal as far too cartoonish. Poor Jennifer Lawrence, who has shown to be talented and versatile, and the perfect fit for Katniss Everdeen, here seems woefully in over her head. She is too young by a good ten, even fifteen years, and all wrong for the role of the eponymous Serena, the masterful manipulator and string-puller, whose consuming desire in life seems to be to bear George’s baby.
Though the original novel by Ron Rash was powerful, and director Bier has demonstrated some considerable talent before, the pairing just does not go together. Most egregiously, the roles that seem tailor-made for Southern American actors, tough-talking sheriff, quietly unhinged lone wolf, are instead played by some of the most miscast actors of them all. Toby Jones? Rhys Ifans? Even Lawrence has difficult playing a convincing Southerner, despite having a southern background herself (though the Carolina of Serena is clearly filmed elsewhere).
In terms of watchability, there is a scene towards the end of Serena, an attack finding a character coming into close contact with a feral animal (think Elisha Cuthbert in 24 for a close parallel). Serena foreshadows the danger early on, and could have created a note-perfect metaphor. Instead, the scene becomes almost comical. Interestingly, the laughableness almost redeems the film, in the weirdly POV way that the scene is initially staged. But ultimately, sadly, Serena retreats back to its dreariness with a seemingly tacked-on and quite frankly unnecessary second ending, (and second overwrought metaphor), sapping the movie of its supposed strength, which should have been to explore the pragmatic nature of ambition in an atmospheric piece of Southern Gothic. Instead, Serena swings a mighty axe, but does not manage to cut wood.