'Country Strong' Lacks Strength

Been there, done that. With a twang.

Starring:   Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester
Directed by:  Shana Feste
Rated:  PG-13

What do you get if you take Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” and toss it in a visual blender with a dollop of “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a dash of “Walk the Line” and a smidgen of “Urban Cowboy?” 

C'mon… don’t be afraid to shout it out… you know the answer.  (Hint: what is this review about?)

Yeah, sad to say if you’ve seen any of the movies above (or ever watch Hallmark Channel) you’ve seen this movie before, and you’ve seen it done better.

The story is nothing surprising:  Emotionally damaged singing star… a threatening newcomer… a hunka hunka burnin’ love triangle… demanding manager/husband. 

Wait. Check out this dialogue: 

Husband:  “First time I heard you sing, I thought, ‘that is what angels must sound like.’”  I am pretty sure I heard that line in some made-for-TV movie about Pasty Cline.

Gwyneth Paltrow, as country superstar Kelly Cantor, is a self-destructive talent trying to navigate a personal life that’s collapsing like a domino tower.  Sadly, her soft attempts at rehabilitation are upended by her manager/husband (Tim McGraw) who is more concerned with her public persona than her private one. 

Enter our Hunka-Hunka burnin’ Love (Garret Hedlund), a slightly-above-average talent, with a non-platonic “friendship” with Cantor.  Hunka-Hunka is brought on tour with them, simply, it seems, to stir the dramatic pot along with green wannabe Chiles Stanton (Meester).  And, as Forrest Gump would say, “that is all I have to say about that.”  Frankly, I might fall asleep if I have to regurgitate the basic plot any more than that.

Paltrow works every twang trying to convince you she’s the southern equivalent of Madonna.  But she just doesn’t have enough vocal technique or performance charisma to convince you she could bring a cheering audience to it’s feet.   Stick her on stage with true country stars like Reba McIntyre or Martina McBride and she’d seem like an uncomfortable kindergartener hanging out with the college grads.

It isn’t hard, however, to believe she is a chronic alcoholic.  (Wait… that didn’t come out right.)   Paltrow said in interviews that she consulted pal Robert Downey, Jr. regarding the self-rationalizations that enable a severely addicted person to destroy someone’s life one evening, and say a happy hello to them the next morning.  In this regard, she has done the homework and fleshes out the hopelessness and desperation that fills each moment of an alcoholics life.

Too bad they didn’t expand on that as the entire story.  If they had, we might have a strong piece of moving making.  But the screenwriters decided to bookend Paltrow’s  alcoholic demise with the contrast of eager up and coming performers (this is the Hallmark Channel part), thereby interrupting what could have been an important message with flirtatious high-school glances and stumbling wannabes.

Leighter Meester, complete with three pound false eyelashes and perpetual bump-it hair, underwhelms.  And her character’s comparison with Carrie Underwood is as ludicrous as assuming a teenager will do a chore without being bribed.  Suspension of disbelief can only take you so far.  Garrett Hedlund as Beau is charming, but there is little depth to his stereotypical underachiever character.

We are taken from city to city, concert to concert, expecting to see characters evolve and be moved as emotions get complex.  Never happens.  It’s kinda like Groundhog Day with country music.  Same scenes and problems repeated for an hour and a half.  With a beat.  And, as my husband pointed out, the movie doesn’t even live up to the title.

There is some nice music.  And if you listen to country music at all, you’ve already heard many of the songs.  But, if, once you get to the end of watching Country Strong, you have been surprised at all, then more power to ya.  Personally, I would have been more emotionally moved by a nice nap.


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