‘Serenity’ triggers agitation, frustration and exasperation
Written and directed by: Steven Knight
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Djimon Hounsou, Jason Clarke, and Diane Lane
“Serenity” – Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) drinks from a World’s Greatest Dad coffee mug, but he might not be the best at anything. World’s Greatest Screwup, perhaps. He’s a fisherman on Plymouth Island, a magical blue and sandy oasis where wealthy tourists descend for a week or two of R&R, but locals need to scrape and herd random sources of cash to keep roofs over their heads. Baker may be the most desperate, but he is his own worst enemy.
As the film opens, his friend Duke (Djimon Hounsou) and he take two vacationing-guys on a fishing trip, however, Baker pulls a knife on them in an erratic rage, and poof, his 700 hundred dollar-boating fee-bounty gets away in a sea of hurt feelings.
Speaking of feelings, according to Google, the definition of serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled, and Baker is anything but. After sitting through writer/director Steven Knight’s torturous nonsense of a movie, tranquility could be the furthest emotion that you feel as well. How about agitation, frustration and exasperation?
At the center of this mess is McConaughey, one of the most cinematically-schizophrenic actors working today. When he dives into the right movies - like “U-571” (2000), “Killer Joe” (2011), “Mud” (2012), “Dallas Buyer’s Club” (2013), and “Interstellar” (2014) – he carries them with a sly bravado and comfortably commands our journey into (and through) big screen hazards.
Lately, he has tripped with “Gold” (2016), “The Dark Tower” (2017) and those car commercials with bizarre soliloquies that prompt double takes or head scratches rather than inspiration.
Here, McConaughey speaks to himself and others, as if he is sitting in one of those Lincolns but seemingly semi-crazed via cocaine or Red Bull while verbalizing with his trademark slow drawl, sporting two days of beard growth and gnarled hair, and soaking in beads of sweat.
As Baker obsessively attempts to catch his white whale in the shape of a humongous tuna who always seems to snap his line, he struggles with his past, including a separation from his son, and this toxic combination fuels his circular existence of bad moods and financial jeopardy. Thankfully, Constance (Diane Lane) regularly pays him for sex, so he garners enough gasoline-dough for his boat to catch Charlie the Tuna’s obese grandson. Well, that’s a relief.
Baker’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) breaks up his monotony - by showing up out of nowhere – and asks him to kill her current husband Frank (Jason Clarke) for 10 million bucks.
Hey, that score could buy 3.6 million gallons of gas!
In-between erratic camera movements, cartoonish supporting characters and a serious moral choice, Baker embarks on a voyage of self-discovery. While coping with his probable borderline personality disorder, he swims naked, sees an apparition, meets a persistent salesman in a black suit, and acts out in two scenes that channel Tommy Wiseau’s Johnny from the cult classic “The Room” (2003).
No, “Serenity” does not make a whole lot of sense until the third act, but only through clumsy and preposterous explanations. On the bright side, we see Hathaway with blonde hair, and a remake of “The Room” seems possible. The movie was also filmed on the island of Mauritius, just east of Madagascar, so at least the cast enjoyed a nice vacation. For movie audiences? Watching “Serenity” is work, and getting through it should earn you a World’s Most Patient Moviegoer mug. It’s not worth it though, not even for 3.6 million gallons of gas.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.