We knew going in that this Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper vehicle was going to bad. But The Boy likes him some J-Law and even bad movies can have redeeming qualities, or at least be unintentionally funny. And it can be amusing to hear The Boy rant about bad filmmaking. (He still bitches about In Time. Less so about Carrie.)
But when we left the movie he said, "That movie actually made me feel bad."
This is probably the worst thing one can say about a movie, that it makes you feel bad. Not unsettled, or challenged, or even sad or depressed, but just bad.
You probably won't have that reaction, but this is almost the antithesis of Aftermath, that tragic case of the movie whose stars died midway through production. In this case, director Susannah Bier (Love Is All You Need) spent a year-and-a-half in post-production trying to save the film. The result is a mess that lacks even Aftermath's sense of promise. It's like there was never anything good here to begin with—a situation that probably isn't true, given everyone involved.
Ultimately, this feels like one of those Jackie Collins/Judith Krantz-based '70s TV miniseries, where the matriarch of a large empire tells her backstory of the man she loved and lost, all the while destroying those around her. (And, actually, on checking out the book this is based on, that's almost exactly what the book is like, though we're missing a lot of important elements here.)
From what I can gather, Lawrence and Cooper are both the protagonists and villains of this story. They have a plan to grow their Smokey Mountain-based lumbermill while fighting off the government's plans to open up a national park. Various indiscretions result in them having to kill certain people, and it all ends in tears and flames.
So, there's your first problem: In most of their movies, Lawrence and Cooper are heroes. Even when they're not super-powered (Raven, Rocket Raccoon, Eddie Morra), they're high-powered (Katniss, Chris Kyle), or at least extraordinarily decent (Ree from Winter's Bone, Norah, Phil, Doug).
I think, in retrospect, they're supposed to be essentially evil here. After all, they're cutting down trees, killing folks who get in their way, overextending their credit... Again, checking against descriptions of the source material, this isn't in doubt. They're supposed to be ruthless.
The movie doesn't show them that way, unfortunately.
For example, Serena is an orphan, with her whole family having been burned to death in a fire only she escaped. Well, look, tell me you're the only survivor of a fire, and I'll assume you set it. I'm just suspicious that way, at least of women-who-are-the-equal-of-any-man heroines of these sorts of romances. And I don't know, but I have that impression from people who have read the book.
The movie has Serena describe the fire in a way that is horrible, but makes her sympathetic. In fact, it creates a kind of sympathy for her rather bizarre character. At every turn, when the story has the chance to showcase the protagonists' corruption, it chickens out and gives us a way to think better of the characters than they deserve. Comeuppance time, and instead of a cathartic sense of justice being served, it's just sad.
It seems like Bier wanted to create a tragic love story from what should have been a nigh camp exposition of evil. (I can see why The Boy would feel bad come to think of it.)
And if that weren't bad enough—and it was, believe me—every aspect of the movie is similarly misshapen. The Boy railed against the editing. Editing, of course, makes scenes awkward and actors look like dorks. Which highlights the fact that the best part of this movie are the awful, awful lines Jennifer Lawrence must recite.
This movie was her idea, by the way, if I'm not mistaken. She probably wanted a break from the largely heroic/good-girl type characters she's been playing. (So far, even though she's playing super-villain Mystique, she's playing her as a far more sympathetic character than the deliciously cruel and sadistic Rebecca Romijn.)
Filmed in Prague, the cinematography is often beautiful when it's of the landscape, and otherwise completely pedestrian. The music starts out like it's going to rock your socks off with that hard bluegrass guitar, and then just sort of peters out. (The Boy even noticed the long stretches of sudden soundtrack silence. This may be a side-effect of the extended post-production.)
Finally, in a move that I am comfortable attributing entirely to Bier, Serena and George's relationship is largely expressed in terms of awkward sex scenes that manage to be neither expository nor erotic. Much like All You Need Is Love, they pretty much wreck up what little tone the movie has.
I can't even recommend it for hardcore Lawrence fans. Only for the morbidly curious.