Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper’s New Movie Serena is Appalachian Noir

Ignore the NYC and LA critics giving Serena bad reviews, particularly those complaining about it’s “lack of humor.” They must prefer vapid comedies over sophisticated, character-driven drama. They certainly don’t understand the gritty, loyal nature of Appalachian culture nor appreciate the rugged, spectacular beauty of its mountainous wilderness. They haven’t even read the book on which the movie was based — Ron Rash’s eerily intriguing, Appalachian noir novel about the Macbeth-like owners of a Depression-era timber empire.

Serena is a brilliant, suspenseful, slow building drama of Shakespearean proportions.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film reunites David O’Russell darlings Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, who were perfectly cast as the dastardly and passionate Pembertons.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Director Suzanne Bier did a phenomenal job reflecting the moody atmosphere and rustic panoramas so masterfully conjured by Ron Rash’s novel. Prague and the foggy, mountainous Czech Republic countryside were surprisingly worthy stand-ins for Appalachia.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The movie doesn’t quite flesh out the individual characters as well as the book, but that’s typical for a film adaption. The only real misstep was the casting of Toby Jones as the local Sherriff. His failed, somewhat Australian attempt at a Southern accent is unintenionally comedic.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Reading some of the more ridiculously scathing and innaccurate reviews, I was reminded of lines from Muriel Miller Dressler’s poem, “Appalachia”:

“I am Appalachia…
and, stranger, you don’t know me!…
You, who never stood in the bowels of hell,
Never felt a mountain shake and open its jaws
To partake of human sacrifice?
You, who never stood on a high mountain…
You, who never danced to wild sweet notes…
You, who never once carried a coffin
To a family plot high up on a ridge
Because mountain folk know it’s best to lie
Where breezes from the hills whisper, ‘you’re home'”

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Following the successful Veronica Mars multi-format release model, Serena is now available On Demand, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Google Play in advance of its March 27th theatrical release. Please see it in whatever form you can and I hope it eventually makes its way into WV cinemas. This film deserves every bit of attention that was lavished on Birdman and Boyhood. Serena has the substance and unique style so desperately needed in the movie industry.

Serena Movie Official Site


Support Independent Bookstores Saturday!

Saturday is apparently “Small Business Saturday” as well as “Indies First Day,” in which authors and book lovers are being encouraged to support their local independent bookshops. Therefore, I encourage all local bookworms to visit Charleston, WV’s only independent bookstore, Taylor Books, on that day or any day. You can also order books and ebooks/epubs from Taylors online, but it’s worth the trip for the bookshop’s atmosphere.

Now that Trans Allegheny closed, Taylor Books is my favorite bookstore on this side of the Atlantic and has thankfully survived the invasion and demise of chain bookstores in the area. Oh and if you don’t like books (how strange and sad), Taylors also has the best coffee in Charleston – I especially like the Nicaraguan Vienna dark roast blend. If you don’t like books or coffee, I really don’t know how you live.

If you do like books and are looking for recommendations for Indies First Day, my personal favorite books of all time are: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (I recently bought this lovely edition from Taylor Books myself to add to my somewhat obsessive Return of the Native collection), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and pretty much everything else written by Kurt Vonnegut or Edith Wharton. More modern favorites have been Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Book Thief and anything by Kate Morton, Maggie O’Farrell and Victoria Hislop.

I also highly recommend the more modern classic The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which is now being adapted for a movie. You can read my rave review of it here. I first heard about the Guernsey book from a former manager of Taylors and it was a longtime staff pick on the shelves there. I’ve since given copies of the book to several friends, all of whom loved it as much as I did.

Other favorite bookstores of mine on both sides of the Atlantic: Empire Books in Huntington, WV; Two Sisters bookery, Old Books on Front Street and Pomegranate Books in Wilmington, NC; and The Winding Stair, Hodges Figgis and Chapters in Dublin, Ireland.

It would be very nice if independent bookstores get the kind of support from Indies First Saturday that Record Store Day brings to indie music shops.