Review by Diana Saenger
Country Strong definitely has its audience, which includes fans of country music, Gwyneth Paltrow or Tim McGraw – even if he doesn’t sing a note in this film. And some viewers might be intrigued by rarely seen Garrett Hedlund. Other people may want to consider staying away from this movie, for the script suffers from some serious flaws, and only those aforementioned fans may be able to overlook them.
Kelly Canter (Paltrow) is in rehab to overcome alcoholism. We first meet her as she and handsome counselor Beau Hutton (Hedlund) are making moon pie eyes at each other in her room. They’re working on writing the lyrics and melody of a song together, and it’s quickly apparent that there’s something more between them.
Gwyneth Paltrow & Tim McGraw
Within minutes Kelly’s husband James (McGraw) arrives to pull Kelly out of rehab early. She’s a top county star and James is itching for her to get back on stage. Kelly suffered a tragic experience at her last concert in Dallas. While her fans are waffling about her comeback, James knows they can’t lose anymore time. Even Beau’s plea that she’s not ready falls on deaf ears.
What’s interesting right off the bat – in one of the first script flaws – involves James being quite aware that something is going on between Kelly and Beau. Yet just a short time later after hearing Beau sing and play at a bar and seeing how much the audience likes him, James invites the guy to be the opening act for Kelly. This makes no sense to me, especially since Kelly happens to be a Grammy-winning super star. Don’t iconic performers like this already have a list of opening acts?
Although trying to show up and deliver the goods at her first appearances, Kelly is an emotional wreck. She can’t get over what happened to her in Dallas; she’s hung up on Beau; and James is cold and unpleasant to her.
The triangle soon becomes a square when former beauty pageant queen Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) catches James’ eye. She’s got great a voice but gets shell shocked on stage, so James encourages Beau to take her under his wing. At first Beau appears complacent with Chiles, who is growing in her affection for him while also trying to avoid unwanted attention from James. It doesn’t help when Chiles starts to out sing Kelly and Beau begins to show real affection for this newcomer with solid pipes.
The plot offers nothing new – country songs with tales about broken hearts, lost loves and hard times. Paltrow doesn’t falter as Kelly and sings rather well even if the songs seem less than catchy. The production value adds nothing to the film, and the subplots – like one about a small quail Kelly and James alternate taking care of – rarely resonate. The “overcoming addiction” plot plays like a media headline we read almost every day, so it’s difficult to raise sympathy for characters with this problem.
What’s good about Country Strong is Paltrow (Iron Man 2), Hedlund (Tron Legacy, Troy) and Meester (Going the Distance). Each one could have a sing- off and draw a crowd. I was particularly taken by Hedlund and Meester’s believable performances and singing abilities. While McGraw has proved his ability as an actor, playing a rather irritable character only makes us miss his singing that much more. Fortunately, the engaging cast in Country Strong helps us almost forget about Shana Feste’s disappointing script and irrational ending.
Photo credits: Screen Gems
Country music fans