'Serena' aims for tragic monumentality but hits very wide of the mark

The movie is a lugubrious period piece in which the production values and the costumes are the true stars.

Larry D. Horricks/Magnolia Pictures/AP
'Serena' stars Jennifer Lawrence (l.) and Bradley Cooper (r.).

If you’re wondering why the new Bradley Cooper-Jennifer Lawrence movie is getting such an under-the-radar release, it’s partly because it’s not really a new release at all. It was shot two years ago, in between “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle,” and then shelved.

Given these unpromising circumstances, I was expecting something truly awful, and perhaps that might have been more fun to watch than this lugubrious period piece. The production values and the costumes are the true stars.

Cooper plays George Pemberton, a timber baron in Depression-era North Carolina who marries Serena (Lawrence), a mysterious beauty with a platinum blonde coif. Looking to extend his empire, he runs into some pesky legal issues and Serena goes into Lady Macbeth mode, getting more homicidal and loony as the saga plays out. Her hair, for the most part, stays firmly in place. 

Director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Christopher Kyle (no, not the man depicted in “American Sniper”) aim for a tragic monumentality but hit very wide of the mark. Cooper and Lawrence, who had terrific chemistry in their other two pairings, have to settle for plain old biology this time around. They look great together, if nothing else. Grade: C (Rated R for some violence and sexuality.)

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