Directed by: Shana Feste (The Greatest)
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester
Crazy Heart, what hath thou wrought? A year after Jeff Bridges won an Oscar playing a broken-down, alcoholic country-music singer, we get Country Strong, where Gwyneth Paltrow plays a broken-down, alcoholic country-music singer. But don’t expect much as awards season rolls around. Paltrow’s performance smacks of Oscar bait and the desire to claw her way back to notoriety. And the scary thing? She is probably the best thing in the movie.
Imagine a bad TV show, with cheap production values and static direction. Imagine a lot of awful, corny country music. Imagine the cheapest, most obvious melodrama and a desperate Paltrow trying to make it respectable. If you’ve got all that, you’ve pretty much got Country Strong.
Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a once mighty country-music superstar who is getting out of rehab a year after a disastrous concert left her a drunken embarrassment and tabloid fodder. Most of the movie is about Kelly dealing with alcoholism, her failing marriage and the loss of her unborn child, while embarking on a 10-city tour with the young budding musician Beau (Garrett Hedlund, TRON: Legacy), with whom she had a tryst in rehab. The movie is comprised of layer after layer of hard luck, bad decisions and Paltrow acting like a drunk, all of which is handled completely straight-faced, in an attempt to be nothing more than hardcore drama. However, the drama quickly slips into melodrama—and stays there right up to the final scenes. It’s all too hokey to be taken honestly and too self-serious to be entertaining.
For a movie that wants so much to be mired in realism, Country Strong takes some gigantic leaps of faith in the believability department. The movie exhibits only a basic, flimsy idea of how the music business works. On top of this, we’re being sold the idea that Kelly is super famous, yet we’re supposed to believe she can get wasted in a dive bar or (for some unknown reason) go train-hopping without creating a giant stink in the press. It’s all as phony as Paltrow’s guitar playing.
It should be pointed out that I’m not really a fan of country music, and even less so of the more pop-oriented stuff you find on CMT. That being said, I can still recognize a catchy hook and a memorable song, and there’s nothing like that to be found in Country Strong. I couldn’t remember a single song a day after seeing the movie. Of course, director Shana Feste is no help, shooting all the musical sequences in the least cinematic ways imaginable. In the end, there’s no flair to Country Strong, resulting in the movie committing the cardinal sin of cinema: It’s just plain boring. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content.