Shana Feste’s Country Strong sees Gwyneth Paltrow and friends dust off the vocal chords to tell an all-singing, sometimes-dancing story about a superstar singer gone off the rails. And no, it’s not a Britney Spears biopic.
Country music superstar Kelly Canter (Paltrow) has been in rehab because during the last year she got hammered and fell off the stage at a concert in Dallas. While five months pregnant. As a result, she lost the baby, and along with husband James (Tim McGraw) has been dealing with the emotional consequences ever since. But in rehab Canter has met Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), a young country singer who has become her ‘sponsor’ – at least that’s what the two tell James.
Now Beau, he’s not only in the rap game for the money and the fame, a fact that would make Xzibit very proud, but he’s doing it for love of the music. Word. Except obviously it’s not the rap game, it’s the country game. Not in the Deliverance sense, of course, that’s something completely different.
On an interesting side note, Garrett Hedlund and Tim McGraw played father and son in the excellent movie version of H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights. Which is a very good film and an even better book. Just saying.
Anyway, James wants to recruit pretty young thing Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) to open for Kelly on her ‘encore’ tour – which has absolutely nothing to do with the Jay Z album of the same name. But Kelly thinks Beau should be the opening act, so after discussing it James decides to do exactly what he wants, which seems to be a symptom of their failing relationship. Fortunately for Beau, Chiles is a bit of a choker, and when she is bottling it on stage he gets up and saves her by starting a duet so she can join in. James, impressed despite the fact that he doesn’t like Beau, (not a terrible indictment as he doesn’t really seem to like anybody) gets both of them on the tour.
But before the first concert Kelly gets an unwelcome present – a box containing a doll covered in blood above the words ‘baby killer’. Naturally, she doesn’t take this very well, and seeks solace in the nearest bottle of vodka – clearly not seeing the irony in drinking away your problems when drinking is your main problem. But then it is hard to appreciate irony when you’re hammered. Some people never learn.
There are also a number of sub-plots, such as the will-they-wont-they get together with Beau and Chiles, the marriage troubles between James and Kelly, and the relationship between Beau and Kelly. Come to think of it, the whole film revolves around drinking, fucking (albeit mostly implied), moaning and singing with a little too much of the latter. Yes, we get it, the cast are all very good singers, but the last 20 minutes contains a lot more singing than story, which gets a little frustrating. Also, how has Tim ’11 consecutive No.1 albums’ McGraw managed to get cast as the only non-singing headline character? It seems a little mad to make a film about country music where the only bona fide country superstar is doing the acting, and the Oscar-winning actress is doing all the singing.
It’s difficult to say why Country Strong doesn’t quite hit the mark. The cast all give good performances, with Paltrow and McGraw particularly good as superstar and out-of-love husband but every time the film reaches a point where things might get interesting, it goes down the same, predictable path. Added to this, the ending becomes clear from about half an hour into the film which makes for perfectly enjoyable but uninspired viewing. Oh, and it probably won’t cheer you up, either.