Serena Movie Review: Jennifer Lawrence Femme Fatale Southern Gothic Selfie


Jennifer Lawrence seemingly returns to that Southern Gothic hillbilly caricature terrain of Winter’s Bone, though switching it up from Ozarks to Appalachia lunatic local lore with the wilderness weepie, Serena. Lawrence likewise switches sides of the track, so to speak, this time around a woman of wealth derived from the logging industry.

Though more emotionally weak than wily, Serena and her slithering over to the dark side gets attributed instead to a standard Hollywood homicidal workingclass villain, a logger with apparently supernatural demonic powers performed in her service, wouldn’t you know it. And unfathomably pulled off with ludicrous gusto by Harry Potter’s Xenophilius Lovegood – none other than Rhys Ifans.

Lawrence during her Wetten, dass..? appearance in November 2014.

Bradley Cooper turns up in the film too, as leading man George Pemberton, a logging industry magnate infatuated with Serena, and then marrying her in rapid succession. The rest of this trite tale you’ve already seen many times before. Though suffice it to say that there’s a baby mama servant irritant hovering about, an ensuing childless marriage, inexplicable wealth on the part of Pemberton in the midst of the Great Depression, and a logging town rescued from corruption by the local sheriff – played by Toby Jones.

Now, a bit of reality check about that sheriff. In fact, the lumber barons essentially set up feudal domains on their occupied lands, “filling the towns with gunmen whom the authorities commissioned as deputy sheriffs, and jailing anyone who questioned their rule,” according to Joe Richards’ “The Legacy Of The IWW.” And primarily the Wobblies as the mass organizers of those workers for more humane conditions, resulting in militant mass unions numbering in the tens of thousands.

But Hollywood prefers to designate those same sheriffs here as heroic, along with feats by the Pemberton couple as saviors of the workers from dangerous working conditions. And with Jones as a weirdly anachronistic ecological activist voice from the future in the wilderness back then, to save the trees from those selfish village idiot workers who are cluelessly manipulated by the boss to think only about their wages.

Meanwhile, Lawrence is apparently ripe for some hefty demonization as well. Let’s just say with her bossy demeanor and dominatrix style horse riding outfits, she’s that latest female caricature turning up in Hollywood – the masculinized femme fatale. Or as Serena smugly asserts early on, “I didn’t come to Carolina to do needlepoint.”

Nor should anyone be surprised that the face behind the camera turning out these stereotypes lately, is female. In this case filmmaker Susanne Bier, along with last year’s malevolent matriarch in Gone Girl, penned by Gillian Flynn. In other words, with Hollywood, as in politics, that more macho than thou attitude seems to be an eager bid for entry into the inner circle of whatever reigning exclusively good old boys club at the moment.

As for the history of those brutally exploited but eventually courageous unionizing loggers as pretty much woodland wallpaper in this shallow selfie of a movie Serena, perhaps one day some filmmaker out there will illuminate their story on screen. But what can one expect, of a basically European production about this country, helmed by a Danish director.

And filmed on a set in the Czech backwoods ironically for good reason. Where deforestation may not yet have reached their land, but their people are sought after in the film world as cheap labor for extras and crews. Unlike their intentionally avoided unionized counterparts back here in the United States, who demand a living wage for the same work.

Watch the Serena tariler:

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.