Title: Country Strong
Year of Release: 2010
Date Viewed: May 15th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The critic quote printed on Country Strong's DVD cover reads "You don't have to be a country fan to love this movie." I always get a kick out of seeing studios do this. It's a sign of desperation. In this case, they're trying to talk the consumer into reading the plot synopsis before skipping over it because of the title. The surest way to avoid a problem like this is to polish the product well enough for its word-of-mouth to reach beyond the core demographic. That isn't to say Country Strong doesn't have anything to offer. I know some people that really enjoyed the film. But if I had enough time to point out all the commonalities in this and other "rise and fall of a superstar" stories, I think even they would concede that it's not by any means special.
Prolific actress and now singing sensation Gwyneth Paltrow plays troubled country musician Kelly Canter. As it's often seen with real music superstars, partying too hard on the road can break a life and/or career. Kelly's image had taken a massive downfall since a tragic incident where her intoxicated body fell off the stage, causing a miscarriage of her unborn child. At her husband James' (Tim McGraw, who doesn't sing in this at all believe it or not) and her loyal fans' encouragement, a three-city comeback tour is planned. Along for the tour is Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund); Kelly's new adulterous boyfriend, and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), the new opening act. The crew experiences ups, downs and at one point a complete derailment during the journey. Within this intention to repair a damaged life lies a cruel fate to destroy one.
Gwyneth Paltrow has done a nice job of revitalizing her own career in recent years. Her singing performances in Glee and various award shows were timed perfectly for this movie's promotion. It may be wise choice however to scale back a little from this point to avoid risk of overexposure. Country Strong's musical numbers are as dynamic as those seen at hot ticket concerts but are somewhat soured by unoriginal titles like "Shake That Thing" and "Give in to Me." Her supporting co-stars do some fine work of their own; arguably enough to be proclaimed as the show stealers.
Sadly, the song titles are not the only unoriginal things about this film. Drug and alcohol addiction was a more intriguing silver screen topic back when filmmakers took it upon themselves to push the envelope of controversial art. By now, it has become a bit redundant especially when the main character is fictional. Infidelity is hardly a fresh concept either, but this subplot never even had a chance to become interesting because of how inconsistently it was written. When a movie has no heroes or villains, it should be the result of well-written complex character identities for it to be done right. In this case, the characters abruptly change personalities by the chapter. Just when everyone seems to be on the same page and focused on bringing Kelly back to the limelight, there out to backstab each other just minutes later. Is this supposed to be about capitalistic fame or friendship and loyalty? The movie cannot make up its mind.
There is another underlying theme that I would have liked to see more of. Celebrities like Kelly Canter have legions of fans around the world. Although every one is valuable to the career, the ones that truly define them still believe in their hero unconditionally much like how a good parent treats their child. Not the blind slaves or bandwagon jumpers but the ones that are capable of recognizing faults yet still support them for the reason they became fans in the first place. Before each of Kelly's tour stops, we see some simulated press interviews with this archetype and each one is touching. The climatic moment where Kelly finally breaks out of the shadows and shines onstage could have been a lot more powerful had the build been more consciously developed. The strongest glimpse of this theme is seen when Kelly volunteers her time to a "Make-A-Wish" type charity by visiting and performing for a terminally ill child. (I wonder how many real life requests Paltrow gets for these sort of things.)
I cannot recommend Country Strong because of its weak novelty factor and limited appeal. But I don't consider this to be a bad career move by anyone involved. Shana Feste gets to direct like a concert manager. Paltrow, Hedlund and Meester become the stars of their own show-stopping numbers. And McGraw gets to.....um.....be someone other than himself for a while. See? Not a total loss.