In Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a country music star struggling with substance abuse. Taken out of rehab a month prematurely by her manager/husband James, portrayed by country star Tim McGraw, for an encore tour, the movie is supposedly about her struggling with her addiction, life, resurrecting her career, etc.
Throw into the mix Beau Hutton, played by Garrett Hedlund, a rehab worker who also happens to be a aspiring to become a country music star, as well as Leighton Meester starring as Chiles Stanton, a girl who also wants to become a country star and you’re set for Country Strong.
So basically, you have four storylines in the movie being developed simultaneously, and while the prospect of these four storylines is compelling and promising, they fall flat in a movie that I hoped would be far better.
While the acting is quite good, this overload in the movie’s plot undermines it. Within each storyline, you have a bunch of other things going on as well. Kelly’s storyline serves as a vehicle for tackling issues with the entertainment industry as a whole, Beau’s storyline is used to introduce romance into the movie, etc…
At one point in the movie, Leighton Meester’s character is described as “the next Carrie Underwood”. I like Leighton but to equate her vocal talents with half of Carrie’s would be an abomination. She has limited range and while enjoyable as a singer, she is nowhere near a vocal powerhouse. So being the Carrie Underwood fan that I am, this served as another point I have against the movie.
A positive thing I can say about the movie is that even though the handling of the plots is full with cliches, the ending is not. I was hoping fifteen minutes into the movie that they would risk ending it the way they did. And I got my wish.
What also helps the movie is the soundtrack. Featuring many songs that I have become familiar with, I couldn’t help but smile whenever they started to sing something that I know. Notable tracks include: Country Strong (lead single from the movie’s soundtrack, made it to the top 30 on country radio), Coming Home (nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best original song), Me and Tennessee (current single by Tim McGraw) and A Little Bit Stronger (current single by Sara Evans).
Overall, the cast give it their all. But Country Strong falls flat for tackling too many issues in, what ultimately becomes, a shallow and rushed manner. If they had stuck with the storyline of Kelly reclaiming her career, this movie and Paltrow’s acting would have gotten award recognition, akin to the similarly themed-movie Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges his first Academy Award for best actor.