Country Strong Review

Country Strong film still

Score

As predictable and soulless as an over-produced country power ballad.

In what may well turn out to be the year’s most misjudged act of casting, Gwyneth Paltrow slips on the cowboy boots and turns bad girl in Country Strong, writer-director Shana Feste’s plodding tale of a country singer’s struggle to get back on the wagon.

Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, an almost implausibly popular recording artist who has ended up in a Priory-style rehab facility after an alcoholic meltdown in Dallas led to the miscarriage of her baby. Eager to get her train wreck of a career back on track, her husband/manager James (real life country star Tim McGraw) pulls her out of the programme a month early to embark on a three-date comeback tour.

She accedes but only on the condition that Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), a gruff orderly and part-time singer with whom she has begun a romance of sorts, accompanies them as the warm-up act.

What follows is a film so enamoured by its musical setting that even the plot and characters seem to have been plucked from the long-clichéd lyrics of country and western standards. This is a land of Stetson hats, long dusty roads and cheatin’ hearts. When beauty-queen-turned-singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) shows up you half expect Kelly to beg her not to take her man.

Country music has always been difficult for us Brits to relate to but last year’s Crazy Heart was a lesson in how to transcend this barrier and, at a stretch, make the clichés that Feste’s film struggles with work. This was largely thanks to Jeff Bridges’ ability to fully embody the role of a drifting, cynical drunk. But where Bridges looked perfectly at home waking up in a pool of dry spittle with a half-smoked Marlboro stuck to the side of his face, Paltrow can’t help looking like she’s on her way back from a Pilates class no matter how much mascara is streaked down her face.

She does, however, pull off a passable imitation of a modern country diva, and while she’s certainly no Emmylou Harris she can hold a tune. She just lacks the edge to play the sort of troubled, tortured figure the script demands.

More successful is Hedlund whose Beau is always engaging whether exchanging bawdy one-liners with his band members or raiding the hotel minibar with a tipsy Chiles. Nevertheless, his efforts aren’t enough to save a script so lacking in substance and heart, and he remains, like his character, something of a diamond in the rough.

Anticipation

Gwyneth Paltrow does bad girl.

2

Enjoyment

As predictable and soulless as an over-produced country power ballad.

2

In Retrospect

Clichéd and overlong but Hedlund may be one to watch.

2
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