I may not be the target audience for Country Strong, but all I could think was it’s no Crazy Heart. It is another story of a has-been alcoholic country singer, but Country Strong just revels in the show of tragedy to show off some “intense” performances.
Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is getting out of rehab. Her sponsor Beau (Garrett Hedlund) is a country singer who plays small bars but seems happy with the crowd. James Canter (Tim McGraw) gets his wife out of rehab a month early to embark on her comeback tour, but Beau knows she’s not ready.
This movie really only exists so that an actress can play all the darkness of alcoholism. To be fair, it’s accurate. Addicts just keep going, but this is exploiting the disease to showcase a performance. I can’t blame Paltrow for being attracted to the opportunities Kelly presents, but it’s too obvious.
James is pretty obvious too. He’s a fixer who thinks he can control everything if he just orchestrates Kelly’s comeback just right and if Kelly just does everything he says down to taking the exact right combination of pills. He’s got the Ron Silver look with the beard and suit, he’s the Ron Silver type but he is no Ron Silver.
The film goes for shock value because it has no human drama. Kelly gets a package with a bloody baby doll and a note that reads “Baby killer.” You’d think an alcohol related miscarriage would have inherent drama, but the movie only uses it to set Kelly off drinking and crying.
When Kelly breaks down on stage, she starts talking crazy. It would be disturbing to hear her talking about how the stars in the sky could take care of you. The movie’s not bold enough to go full on crazy though. They’re just waiting for Kelly to start crying with a jumbotron close-up on stage behind her.
Kelly just happens to wander into the studio while James is recording her new song with young upstart Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester). That happens, again, just so Kelly can cry about it. She dances on the bar at Miss Kitty’s and vomits backstage, although it’s all sound. Paltrow didn’t commit to the chunks.
The dialogue is full of clichés. James tells Kelly, “When I first heard your voice, I thought that’s what angels sound like.” He sounds sincere though. I really believe that guy is so unoriginal. Kelly asks James, “Will you remember me like I was?” because she’s so ashamed of what she’s become. Not rock bottom enough to clean up, but enough to mope. Beau says, “I don’t think fame and love can exist in the same place.” That’s just some B.S. they threw in as a message. Fame wasn’t what corrupted Kelly. You can be famous and sober.
Along the way Beau falls for Chiles. Why? I guess because they played beauty pageant together and he messed with her flash cards. Yeah, that’s a subplot but it’s not the real problem of the movie.
On the plus side, you get to see Paltrow in some mighty scanty outfits. She looks fabulous in a tiny black dress, and wears nothing but a towel in two scenes. Her final performance in a red dress and boots is hot, plus two more costume changes.
I guess there’s a good soundtrack if you like country music. Kelly’s final performance is basically a medley of numbers that will all be available for 99 cents each on iTunes. Maybe if you love the music it doesn’t matter what the story is, but it does show irresponsible lack of restraint dealing with serious drama.