Title: Country Strong
Director: Shana Feste
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester
Release Date: Out now
From Kurt Cobain’s suicide to Elvis dying on the toilet, questions of fame and its price have been raised again and again since the dawn of the mega-celebrity. Is all that power and money too much? Can you have a public and personal life? Should a girl take laxatives for weight loss? All these pressing questions and more are answered in the insipid Country Strong, Hollywood’s latest attempt at meaningful tragedy, which predictably gets tangled in mind-numbing mediocrity.
Country Strong takes the age-old monster of fame and pits it against veteran country singer Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) as she battles with alcoholism and depression. The movie depicts Canter’s struggle to redeem herself, both personally and publicly, after she experiences an alcohol-induced miscarriage.
A crumbling marriage, fleeting affairs, and talent rivalries ensue, all to the pleasant backdrop of country music and the not-so-pleasant backdrop of Paltrow’s hideous miscasting, the actress trying desperately to re-invent herself into a pop star following her appearance on Glee.
As Paltrow’s tale of attempted redemption leads the way, several side stories emerge. Chiles Staton, played charmingly by Leighton Meester, adopts the role of the young rival as she climbs the country music ladder, embarking on a romance with fellow musician Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) along the way.
What the audience is left with is a series of underdeveloped storylines, some more promising than others, which prevent any in-depth characterisation or meaning beyond clichéd sentimentality.
Country Strong falls short in a variety of ways. What could have been a touching and insightful examination of a marriage trapped in grief becomes instead a miss-match of stereotypes, as the doomed Canter flings destruction in the face of her permanently morose husband, played by Tim McGraw.
Aside from the shocking miscasting of Paltrow as a woman on the edge of a breakdown, the overbearing ending and message of the film is all too familiar. For Country Strong’s third-act, love is all that matters, and the road to follow is that guided by your heart, not your career. If the movie teaches us one thing, it is that condescension will always find a space in big-budget Hollywood melodramas.
Perhaps the most pleasant aspect of the film comes in the form of the music. Songs about cowboys and horses are certainly not on most of our iPod playlists, however be warned one might find themselves strangely allured to the husky voice of a Texan guitarist singing about their farm after watching this movie. Yet, whether a few pleasant songs merit two hours of your time is highly doubtful.
In a Nutshell: Buy the soundtrack.
– Anna Burzlaff