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"Serena": Just Another Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence Movie 

Wednesday, Mar 25 2015
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Danish director Susanne Bier's Depression-era downer puts forth Bradley Cooper as a Carolina lumber baron whose company culture gets seriously disrupted by his new wife, Jennifer Lawrence. Hailing from a lumber family herself, she knows how to land an ax, and to manage occupational hazards while also becoming one. Well, Serena isn't great, but it's better than the lousy reputation that precedes it. History's third Cooper-Lawrence pairing, the first without director David O. Russell, has languished undistributed since Bier made it in 2012, when she had a foreign film Oscar fresh in hand. But all it really means is that Serena doesn't comport well with the overwrought, overrated Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, and maybe those movies weren't so good after all. It is fair to say that maudlin melodrama plus Nordic restraint plus the treacherously provisional chance to work with American resources haven't done Bier any favors. Here, Cooper doesn't make choices so much as strike poses, and Lawrence's charisma, for all its truthfulness, sometimes seems anachronistic. There's good support from David Dencik and Rhys Ifans, as differently disturbed woodsmen, and blander stuff from Toby Jones as the sheriff. The real hangups have to do with unreconciled contradictions within the title character — a ruthless businesswoman who can hold her own among lumberjacks and snakes and eagles, but doesn't handle herself well at all when domesticity doesn't work out for her. Do we consider this a tragic parable of compromised feminism or an unwitting example of it? The adaptation of Ron Rash's 2008 novel was done by screenwriter Christopher Kyle, no known relation to the Navy SEAL of the same name portrayed by Cooper in American Sniper.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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