Jennifer Lawrence is a lumberjack and I’m okay.
Talk about flying under the radar. Here’s a 2014 movie starring two of the biggest movie stars in the world — Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) and Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) — that got quickly dropped in and out of theaters with little to no fanfare. Now, Serena has a second chance to find an audience on Blu-ray.
It’s the 1930s. George Pemberton (Cooper) inherits his father’s logging empire, and embarks on a whirlwind romance-turned-marriage with Serena (Lawrence), a frontierswoman with her own background in logging. George fights to keep the business running as corruption and distrust surround him, while his marriage faces even deeper challenges.
If I were to sum up this movie in one word, it’d be serious. Everything is played with utter seriousness, with the cast working overtime to sell us on just how heavy and important all the drama is. This is evident from the start, when George asks Serena to marry him mere minutes after meeting her. Emotional beats such as falling in love are a means to an end, so in its place we get dramatic tension among the loggers, dramatic tension among the marriage, and dramatic tension pretty much everywhere. The problem is that it all feels the same after a while. When every scene gives us close-ups of the actors with overly concerned looks on their faces, any sense of character arcs or even personality is lost.
Not that the actors don’t try. Lawrence, looking radiant with golden blonde hair, has a few good moments, such as when she proves herself an equal to rough and tumble men. When things get really bad, Lawrence digs deep to portray Serena’s utter heartbreak. Cooper doesn’t fare as well, mostly because the majority of the film has him fretting over the future of his logging empire, and all this plot-based material doesn’t give him much to work with, except look really, really worried all the time.
Despite my misgivings about the movie, it certainly looks beautiful. I can’t technically call this a Western, but the influences of the Western genre are all over this one. There’s a lot of horseback riding, living off the land, a sense of lawlessness, and a general sense of being out in a new frontier. A lot of scenes take place outside, either in fog-shrouded woods that seem to go on forever, or vast expanses beneath the scope of the blue sky. It’s a critic cliche to write about how every frame looks like a painting, but that’s the truth in this movie.
All that gorgeous cinematography translates nicely to Blu-ray, with vibrant colors and rich details. Audio is also good, with clean dialogue and making the most of the moody score. Three featurettes focus on recreating the 1930s landscape, and a third compares the film to the novel it based on. The disc also includes some deleted scenes.
This review is shorter than most, because there’s not a lot to say about Serena. The movie works so hard to convince us that the story is important that it gets in the way of the actual story. Sure is nice to look at, though.