You ever see a movie you can smell? When I was in the second grade, my school went on a field trip to a Gulf Coast Fish Hatchery. It was not what I would call a fun experience, as the entire trip was full of the aroma of dead fish and sea spray. Serenity smells like that.
In Steven Knight’s Serenity (an entirely different film from the Firefly movie), nothing makes sense and nobody knows anything. If this narrative choice sounds tiresome to you, don’t worry, it is for most of the film as well. I will not spoil it for you, as the twist in Serenity is one that has to be experienced in the theater, but the entire film is built around one truly insane reveal. The film is divided into two parts. Half of the movie is spent wondering why everything feels like an acid trip, and the half after the twist is spent laughing aloud at how ridiculous the film’s internal logic is. Normally, I don’t like to describe movies as “twist films” in my reviews, as I think it sets up a viewing experience that is adverse to enjoyment in my opinion, but I went in knowing there was something different about Serenity and still was adequately confused and amused the whole time. Plus, I would say it’s safe to assume there was no way you were going to see this in the first place, so maybe my guarantee that the film’s narrative is truly bonkers will inspire you to give this nutball a try.
Okay so this movie has some ludicrous angle to it, that has been established. But is it a good movie? Not especially, no. Its screenplay is pretty clunky, with the prediction that when the plot is recontextualized it will all fall into place. The problem is that the story at large that is really being told is not one that is particularly interesting and honestly kind of reductive. The dialogue is pretty bad and the characters are patently absurd. Matthew McConaughey plays a man who is only a few sardines away from the sea captain from the Simpsons. He bathes naked in the ocean, downs rum like a mutinous sailor and has an existence solely dedicated to catching a tuna named Justice. He is easily the only character in the film who is even remotely compelling, but I can’t say it’s because McConaughey gives a good performance. It’s almost as if McConaughey took some ayahuasca on a fishing boat and a camera crew just happened to record what he did. Anne Hathaway is just atrocious in this film. I have no idea why she agreed to do this but it is a laughable role that she brings very little to. But the real crown jewel of this movie is Jason Clarke’s role as the drunken abusive billionaire. He is truly awful in this film. The character is written very poorly, but his take on it only makes things worse. Jason Clarke is an actor I usually appreciate, but his work in Serenity is maybe his worst since Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Our Lips Are Sealed.
And yet, I can’t help myself but be charmed by Serenity. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued the whole time. It was probably just morbid fascination, but I was genuinely interested in seeing what would happen next. It has a lot of ideas and as a general rule, I prefer to reward audacity over banality. Even still, I have my limits and Serenity definitely pushes against them. I really would recommend seeing it at some point, because you just don’t know what you’re in for. If I had to describe the experience, I’d say it’s like having a fever dream in a Long John Silver’s while Matthew McConaughey tells you a sea shanty. So, if that piques your interest, maybe it’s time to go fishing.