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This Is What You Need To Know About Jennifer Lawrence And Bradley Cooper's New Movie

It's called Serena, and there's a reason you haven't heard of it.

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1. It exists.

Magnolia Pictures

March 2015 has been a banner month for quiet disasters featuring huge stars. First there was The Cobbler, a little-seen magical-footwear dramedy starring Adam Sandler, and then there was Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel's Accidental Love, a patched-together version of a movie that was shut down for financial reasons before shooting was even finished back in 2008. And now there's Serena, which is shamefacedly being shuttled into a few theaters on March 27 despite featuring one of Hollywood's golden pairings: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

Serena has neither the trainwreck qualities of The Cobbler nor the novelty value of Accidental Love, which was released without the approval of director David O. Russell, who took his name off the project. Serena is just run-of-the-mill not good, despite having Cooper and Lawrence, whose previous collaborations in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle had Oscar all over them; despite coming from Denmark's Susanne Bier, one of the more high-profile female filmmakers working today, and an Oscar winner herself for 2010's In a Better World; and despite having been adapted from an acclaimed novel by author and poet Ron Rash. Somehow, nothing clicks in this period drama about a couple in Depression-era North Carolina.

2. It is the story of a proto-feminist in a male-dominated industry.

Magnolia Pictures

At least for a little while. Serena's title character, played by Lawrence, charges into the movie as a dashingly untraditional 1930s woman. The survivor of a fire that claimed the lives of her family in Colorado, she's a glam valkyrie-type who wears pants, rides a white stallion, and eagerly takes a place alongside her new husband, Pemberton (Cooper), in his timber business. She hunts rattlesnakes with an eagle. She's fearless — "The only thing that frightens me is the thought that you don’t trust me," she tells her lumber baron spouse — but also ruthless, a ferocious capitalist who looks on in approval when tracker Galloway (Rhys Ifans) rouses one of the men from his break by hurling an ax at the napping guy.

Lawrence is no stranger to formidable women, but she and Bier keep apologetically softening the character, as if reluctant to reveal that she's meant to be frighteningly steely instead of merely strong. Her bold foray into life in the camp reads as an underdog triumph rather than the arrival of a Lady Macbeth, or at least a Claire Underwood, which makes it all the more jarring when she takes a darker turn.

3. It's also the story of a woman who goes literally baby crazy.

Magnolia Pictures

Serena and Pemberton seem to be an ideal match, at least as indicated through their frequent soft-focus moments and shared desire to strip their slice of North Carolina of trees before it's turned into a national park, then moved to Brazil. Not long into their marriage, Serena gets pregnant ("I have your child inside me," she announces), a condition that doesn't slow her a whit — she briskly ties a tourniquet on Galloway when he loses his hand in a logging mishap, earning his lifelong fealty.

But when Serena loses the baby, and learns she can't have another, something in her breaks. Both she and Pemberton start to fixate on the child he fathered with a local girl named Rachel (Ana Ularu) before he met his imposing wife. Despite his callousness toward her earlier, Pemberton finds Rachel a job and shows sudden interest in his son. So does Serena, though her gaze is far more predatory ("You said that I was enough for you!" she cries to her husband). There's finally something that Serena, so beautiful and daunting, is unable to accomplish, and it comes across, terribly, like a sort of ironic punishment for someone who has challenged gender roles. Initially so winningly convention-defying, Serena becomes just another psychotic female character.

4. And, despite all of this, it does look insanely gorgeous.

Magnolia Pictures

Filmed in the Czech Republic by cinematographer Morten Søborg, who's worked with Bier before, Serena does look downright sumptuous. Cooper and Lawrence conduct their characters' romance/destructive spiral in the middle of some stunning landscapes, dressed in all sorts of period finery, with Lawrence getting a particularly lovely array of bias-cut dresses and silk blouses. Søborg's notably good at shooting the pair in the low light of their home, where they glow in the dim historical lighting as they exchange lines like, "Everything’s going to be all right. We’re going to forget about everything but each other."

But as good as they look, Cooper and Lawrence both seem befuddled by their roles; neither they nor the movie have a sense of what their narrative is. Cooper, using an accent that slips all over the place, never acts like the relentless businessman everyone treats him as. He falls in love with Serena abruptly, introducing himself and then saying, "I think we should be married," and he develops an interest in his castoff child just as suddenly. The characters are too opaque for their love story to even cohere. Serena is the rare film in which Lawrence, who's usually so astonishingly sure-footed, looks lost and out of place, her performance defined by a lot of mysterious, heated staring. It's an odd misfire from two actors at the peak of their game, but a misfire nonetheless.

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