Country Strong

Country Strong is at its best when the music is playin’. Unfortunately, the stuff that happens between the songs is Country Weak. So – if you don’t like country music to begin with – this movie’s not for you.

It starts out strong enough, with an aspiring singer-songwriter named Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) makin’ music with country superstar Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) while she’s in rehab for substance abuse and assorted emotional health issues.

When Kelly’s manager/husband (Tim McGraw) pulls her out of rehab early to embark on a “comeback tour”, Kelly insists that Beau be her opening act. He ends up sharing the stage with a young beauty-queen-turned-singer named Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) who is both a threat and protégé to Kelly. Between concerts, the foursome battles a mess of romantic entanglements, unresolved demons, and conflicting aspirations.

Paltrow, Hedlund and Meester are all super-talented on stage, and the music itself is certainly entertaining for those of us who enjoy belting out a verse or two of “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places”. But the movie as a whole drifts so far into cliché country that you never really buy into these characters and their pain. Moments that were surely meant to be dramatic tended to unleash an uncomfortable burst of laughter instead. It doesn’t help that the story development literally stalls for a good hour in the middle of the movie. Seriously, it’s like, nothing happens. The songs salvage the momentum, but only enough to carry the movie toward its predictable climax. But wait – here’s the kicker. Just when you think it’s over, it’s not. There’s another ending. And another one. And another one. And they’re alternately cheesy, tragic, tacky, unpredictable, and predictable.

The movie will beg comparisons to Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning turn in last year’s Crazy Heart. Or maybe even Walk the Line. But really, there’s no comparison. Those movies had a soul that’s missing from Country Strong. And it’s a shame, cause I really do like all the actors involved. Country Strong is ultimately more like the recently-released Burlesque. Good music. Good rental. Good time-killer on an airplane. And most importantly perhaps – it’s definitive proof that Paltrow should do more Glee, where she absolutely rocked it as substitute Holly Holliday!

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