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January 7th, 2011
Film: Country Strong
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund
Written and Directed by: Shana Feste
The strength in Country Strong comes from two places; performances by the films four stars and the songs they sing. Unfortunately the film, written by director Shana Feste, seems to be missing about a half hour of plot development. Feste’s direction with the film is evident, but she asks too much of the audience in assuming scenes absent from the screen happened at some point in the story.
Although Hollywood A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow seems like an unlikely choice to play famed and fallen country singer Kelly Canter, she is able to make the role believable, easily passing as a look-a-like for one of the Dixie Chicks. The film opens with Canter being taken out of rehab for alcohol abuse a month early by her husband/manager James, played perfectly by the understated Tim McGraw. While undergoing treatment after drunkenly falling off stage during a show, resulting in a miscarriage, Canter meets Beau Hutton, an aspiring country singer, and the two begin an affair.
James invites Beau, who he believes, or at least says he believes, is Kelly’s sponsor, and pop-country newcomer Chiles Stanton on a three-show comeback tour with Kelly as the openers. Though Kelly asks Beau to not sleep with anyone on tour, he soon begins a relationship with Chiles. James, who has been distant both sexually and emotionally from his wife since her fall that ended their unborn child’s life, is unable to hide his disappointment in her inability to hold herself together both on stage and in their marriage vows.
The films message of the pitfalls of fame and the importance of being loved are clear, but integral steps that are necessary to develop the film’s relationships are absent. It’s unclear as to when and why Canter began drinking and it seems unrealistic that someone who spent almost a full year in rehab exhibits no attempt whatsoever to get better once released. The relationship between Beau and Chiles goes from hatred to intense love in what appears to be only a few days on the road, even though Beau is in love with and continuing to be intimate with Kelly the entire time.
The strongest performance of the film comes from Country Strong’s sole country artist and the films only main character that doesn’t sing a single note. McGraw, who based his character on Reba McEntire’s husband/manager Narvel Blackstock, makes his James the most realistic character in the film. Unassuming and reserved, McGraw’s James is able to silently battle through his decision as to whether or not to stay with his alcoholic and unfaithful wife in such a way that resonates loud and clear on screen.
Meester and Hedlund show their strength as actors by taking characters with limited and forgettable dialogue and turning them into significant players. The two easily out-sing Paltrow, who’s diva-like persona as Grammy winner Canter does not match her average, pleasant voice.
Hedlund’s Chances Are and Meester’s Words I Couldn’t Say make the soundtrack to Country Strong a strong contender for the Oscar’s Best Original Song in a Motion Picture category. McGraw’s wife, Faith Hill, lends her song Give In To Me, performed by the young stars, to the film to round out the solid soundtrack.
It was not for lack of talent in performances both in the singing and acting in Country Strong that made the film a disappointment. Plot holes and weak dialogue sadly couldn’t be saved by some of Hollywood’s most trusted and rising stars. Country Strong was strong in the country, but weak in story.
Rating: 7 Belt Buckles out of 10Tweet