Imagine a movie with two of the biggest stars in Hollywood, directed by an Oscar winning director, based on a best-selling novel, and backed by the bottomless pockets of a billionaire. That’s a sure fire formula for a hit movie, right? Well, not necessarily. After the jump, an account of a movie with everything going for it that went straight to video.
From Adam Sternberg , Why Did Serena Go Straight to VOD? — Vulture:
If you produced a movie featuring the two hottest movie stars in the world, with an Oscar-winning director and a script based on a beloved best-selling novel, you might assume you’d end up with a massive hit, right? Or at least a movie that everyone was scrambling to get a piece of? But what if that didn’t happen — and you ended up with pretty much the opposite of that? What if you ended up with Serena?
Serena stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, whom you may remember from such little-seen collaborations as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, films for which he earned a total of two Oscar nominations and she earned an Oscar nomination and an Oscar win. Serena is directed by Susanne Bier, whose previous film, In a Better World, won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 2011, both for Best Foreign Language Film. Serena’s script is based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Ron Rash, which was a New York Times best-seller and earned great reviews. Yet despite this impressive assemblage of talent, there is a good chance that you’ve never even heard of Serena, which, by the way, you could be watching on VOD right now. That’s right — a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, released in 2015, went, in that antiquated parlance, straight to video. . . .[Sternbergh goes on to tell about the production and its problems. . .]
So is Serena that bad? In a way, it’s not bad enough. Serena is not only a film about a bygone era but it feels like a film from a bygone era — an era when when you might have stumbled on Serena as the ABC Sunday Night Movie, watched it because of the stars, then fallen asleep contentedly halfway through. Some of its flaws are obvious: Bier has no feel for the Smoky Mountains, or the Depression, or, really, America, and the story doesn’t flow with any particular coherence, let alone momentum. Other flaws are harder to pin down. The tone is distressingly subdued for a film that’s ostensibly about rapacious ambition run amok. The script never really decides whether Serena is a calculating cutthroat or a winsome woodland foundling. (Or neither. Or both!) Still, each star has his and her moments. The costumes are nice. Rhys Ifans (!) has a creepy turn as an omniscient and amoral mountain-man killer that, had it come enfolded in a much better movie, might have drawn some attention. Instead, it’s smothered in this movie and thus, like the movie itself, it earned no attention at all.
Most of all, Serena is interesting because it’s a much more rare artifact than a really bad movie: It’s an incompetent movie. Unlike more famous movie disasters, it plays out not like the product of one unchecked monstrous ego but of a thousand tiny decisions gone wrong. The editing is incompetent. The pacing is incompetent. The scenes don’t logically flow from one to the next. The soundtrack sounds like it was generated by a computer-soundtrack algorithm set to “mournful fiddle.” Serena is a bracing reminder of how much expertise goes into making even the most uninspired movie — how dozens of people with wildly different skill sets all have to perform well or the whole project is imperiled. The stars may be the ones with their names plastered over the title, but if you’re Jennifer Lawrence, trapped in Serena like Rapunzel in her tower dungeon, your powers of self-salvation are limited. You can’t reedit the film or rescore its music or rescout its locations. In the end, the lesson of Serena isn’t how remarkable it is when a movie like this goes badly, but how improbable it is that any movie at all turns out to be good.
HT: Kirk Anderson