Serena review – emotional strength in well-executed clichés

I’ll admit it, I was ready to hate this. Settling into my seat for the 3:10 pm screening of Serena, I felt slightly out of place. I was surrounded by foreign film fanatics, the odd 20-something couple and many, many posses of sweet OAPs.

Now I’m usually the first one to jump at the chance to go and see a new romantic drama, but I was slightly skeptical about Serena. The poster screams Nicholas Sparks, and the film seems to be a confusing mix of teenage chick flick, star-studded blockbuster and 1920’s drama. It was a recipe for disaster. The film faded in to a dramatic wide shot of cloudy mountains. A very serious stare from Blue-Eyed-Bradley signalled the beginning of the story and I could feel my eyes rolling to the very back of my skull.

And yet, you see three stars at the end of this review. So while eating my slice of humble pie, I will take my hat off to Serena and explain why this unoriginal romantic drama is actually a stunning piece of cinema. The film tells the story of the Pemberton newly-weds, who after falling madly in love fall into a vicious downward spiral, thus jeopardizing George’s cherished timber business, Serena’s sanity and credibility, and ultimately the lives of both husband and wife.

Many a time I have sat down on a dull Sunday afternoon to distract myself with the latest crash and burn love story, and many a time they have simply left me cold. However, at the end of Serena, I found myself needing to get a grip, to physically and emotionally bring myself to leave the cinema and go back to the real world of student life in Bristol. And that is how I know that the film was a success.

The film embraces its genre, and uses every device available to emphasize the overall tension; the performances are narrated by (excessively) dramatic music, the viewer is overwhelmed with long sweeping shots and camera movements, and fade ins and outs are the go-to transitions. What stopped me from throwing a film snob tantrum and leaving in despair was the fact that these emphatic strategies and tricks as well as the overall mise-en-scène were all stunning, and executed like an extremely well-oiled machine.

The fact that this has all been done before may put some people off, some may point knowing fingers and chuckle “Been there, done that”, but when it is so well performed, who are we, humble viewers, to condemn faultless technical brilliance and outstanding acting? Is novelty the only factor on which we judge what a film is worth? Susanne Bier, director of the film, mothered this project dearly. The film stayed hidden in post-production for 18 months while she and the rest of her team worked on it. And when we see the beauty of the immense Czech landscapes, and the mesmerizing rich colors and textures in every single shot, I can see why. The film demonstrates a visual beauty that you just cannot deny.

Viewers and critics have moaned and groaned about the actors, accusing them of being too cliché and bringing nothing new to the film. But I would tend to strongly disagree. Cliché can be considered a negative when it is poorly executed, however one of Serena‘s main strengths lies in the power of said romantic clichés. Though the storyline presents some pretty classic plot twists for a romantic drama, there is no denying the outstanding performances given by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and also Rhys Ifans. Cooper and Lawrence have brilliant on-screen chemistry as usual, and Rhys Ifans almost outshines his fellow male lead, giving a dark and intense performance.

So to recap, yes you have seen it all before. Yes, Bradley and Jen still and will always look amazing together. Yes, there are too many metaphors (panthers, anyone?), string instruments and intense gazes every 15 minutes or so. But that does not take away from the film any of its qualities. Serena is your favorite romantic drama that you have watched countless times already, that you will still watch again and again. I know I will.


Originally published on Epigram

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