By Christian DiMartino
I first saw the trailers for Serenity last June, right before experiencing Hereditary. At that point in time, it was slated for a fall release. Now it’s being plopped in at the end of January, and the talk has been pretty mute. With all of these facts in mind, it did not surprise me that Serenity has opened to scathing reviews, and for the first half of Serenity, I joined the hateful choir.
Yet what will surprise you (as it did me) is that while my thumb was largely down for a good amount of Serenity, the second half of the film is so totally bonkers, totally audacious, totally nutso, that I couldn’t help but admire it. For reasons I will dive into in a bit. For the time being though, I’ll quote Lloyd Braun: “Serenity now, insanity later.” Which is fitting, because the latter portion of the movie is nuts.
Matthew McConaughey plays Baker Dill. What a name. Dill resides in a coastal town of Plymouth, constantly fishing for tuna. In walks Anne Hathaway’s Karen, who just so happens to be Dill’s ex-wife. The reasons for their split appear to be vague. It might have to do with the fact that he’s choosing to go by the name “Baker Dill.” Her first appearance is jarring, especially due to the bizarre camera movements they use to focus on the characters. It seems unusually goofy, until… well, I’ll get there.
Anyways, Karen comes to Dill, begging him to take her abusive husband (Jason Clarke) out to sea and throw him to the sharks, for a hefty price of $10 million. Dill isn’t on board at first, but once he catches wind that they’re son wants the job done, THEN he’s all in. I would love to dive further into this nutty storyline, but I’m going to do my best to keep it vague.
As I mentioned before, the first half of this film is kind of awful. The dialogue is wooden, and with it the performances suffer too. The story might intrigue, but the dialogue is enough to have you howling, “serenity now!” It comes across like a bad version of a sleek, sexy thriller. And what is up with this Plymouth place? Everyone there acts as if Baker Dill is the mayor, or God, or something. Everything revolves around him. And then there’s those weird, goofy camera angles I was talking about, along with a hint of something… magical? Supernatural? Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. And there’s a weird amount of redundancy.
Having said all of that, and I meant every word of it as I was watching it, the movie is still ultimately something to see. Because the latter half of the film literally counters all of my quibbles with a clever explanation. Serenity is directed by Steven Knight, of the excellent Tom Hardy vehicle (he was driving the entire time, get it?) Locke, and the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Dirty Pretty Things. He’s no dummy. Serenity walks a fine line of clever and dumb, but it has a trick or two up its sleeve.
A trick or two that you will either go for, or you won’t. I kind of went for it. I admit that Knight’s ambitions aren’t totally successful. That perhaps the film isn’t a total smash. Yet it has more audacious originality than anything I have seen in a minute. It’s a film that pushes you not to like it, and chances are, you might not. Yet I couldn’t help but sort of admire the madness before me, and it will probably be an ever better movie the second time.
Serenity will leave you thinking and talking. Or it should. If it doesn’t, at least you can daydream about the scenery. Silver lining? Sure.