Sorry, guys, I’m still sick today with sore throat and will not be mustering up the strength to appear presentable for a video review. You will have you use your imaginations for emphasis and silly faces where necessary in the following review. On the upside, I won’t have to butcher name pronunciations today! Here goes:
“Country Strong” was written and directed by Shana Feste (would I have called her “Shan-like-Shannon-a-Fest-y? Who knows…). ] This movie had a lot of possibilities and I wanted to like it. We know from past experiences with “Ray”, “Walk the Line”, and “Crazy Heart”, that stories of musicians dealing with fame and all the problems that come with it in relationships and their own health equal lots of notice come awards time! Obviously the stories based on actual artists fare a little better since all that came out of “Crazy Heart” was the recognition by the Academy that Jeff Bridges has been around for many years and The Dude can act. And not just when he’s being a hippie. But it does help when he gets to be an alcoholic. My early prediction for this coming year is that the Best Actor award will go to James Franco playing the young man who lost a fight with a damn big rock in “127 Hours.”
Anyway, I’m still talking about “Country Strong”, right? Maybe this store brand Dayquil is kicking in a little hard. Here are things almost every musician movie, country, rock, or otherwise has in common: A) Alcohol and/or Drug Dependence, B) Infidelity, Sleeping around, C) Pull a stupid stunt onstage and embarrass yourself, fall from grace, D) Rehab.
The premise is that Gwyneth Paltrow plays a country star named Kelly Canter who has a bunch of Grammies and she’s an alcoholic who has been in rehab (ding, ding, ding, that’s two for two!). Her husband and manager, James is played by Tim McGraw who has become quite a good actor. He did really well in “The Blind Side” and this role is much tougher. We find out rather early on that what put her in rehab was being drunk and falling offstage at a show in Dallas (Whoa, that’s three for four already). He decides to pull her from rehab a month early to set up a three date tour (does this count as a tour? 3 days??) that will end in a highly televised return to Dallas to prove everyone wrong. Unfortunately, Kelly is a fragile little flower that the tiniest thing can set off and have her running to makeup smearing boozing that never felt believable.
While in rehab, she was “taken care of” if you know what I mean by Beau Hutton played by Garrett Hedlund. Why is that face so familiar? You just saw him in “Tron: Legacy.” This is what he looks like with facial hair and holding a guitar! Gotta say this is a face and voice to win the ladies over, no question about it. In fact, the majority of the movie the camera is panning over his face smiling longingly at some girl so this movie is really more Beau’s movie than any other character. Due to Beau’s past with James’ wife in rehab and his own country music talent in the local bar, he gets the privilege of getting to open for Kelly on this tour along with Chiles Stanton played by Leighton Meester (of “Gossip Girl”, XOXO). Chiles is a beautiful girl, her claim to fame she totes around is being a former Miss Dallas, but she is shy to sing onstage until interactions with the blue-eyed, Beau help her gain confidence and she holds tight to the reins of her career (oh great, a horseback riding joke, what’ll she think up next?).
Ok, so Kelly is married to James. James can barely look at her as a husband. Kelly is having an affair with Beau obviously. Beau loves her but can’t help but start to like the innocent and age appropriate Chiles. Kelly is jealous that Chiles is young and pretty and might get the attention of James. This goes beyond a love triangle, this is a well organized love square. (ding, ding, infidelity, four for four!)
I really liked the relationship between Kelly and James onscreen with all its complexity and there was occasional charm to the relationship between Kelly and Beau though it was definitely lacking. The relationship between Beau and Chiles was pretty cute and had potential. The problem is that there are TOO many relationships!! They all suffer for being stuffed together like this. The hilarious thing is, while all the characters appear to know what is going on, they very rarely talk about it. They just want to get to Dallas.
The biggest letdown of the movie if Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Kelly. You never have a reason to want her to get better or cheer for her. You get tiny glimpses of what might have made James fall in love with her in the first place, but it’s hard to figure out how the fans ever embraced her. She’s actually more of a supporting role even though the movie is supposed to be about her, but I guess she’s the only reason the other three characters are there. She never even sings a full song until practically the end of the movie since she keeps screwing it up with booze (while Beau and Chiles have each sang a TON) and you start wondering if she ever will. And I have to give credit to my friend, Austin Lugar at TheFilmYap.com with making this comparision: Remember that scene in “Get Him to the Greek” where the rock star after the long journey finally does his opening song, “I’m Coming Up” and the lights go up? THAT, my friends, THAT had more emotional build up than Kelly finally singing at her Dallas concert with the movie title song, “Country Strong.” Wow. By that point, you just don’t care about her anymore and I was of the attitude that if she didn’t start singing now at the end of the movie, I just wanted to kick her or get one of those giant canes to pull her offstage.
The other thing that bugs me is audience reactions during the songs. They only have two levels. On and off. When you are at a concert with an opening act you have never heard of and songs you have never heard before, you don’t suddenly cheer like it’s the Super Bowl and sing along. No gradual warming up to the artists, just full blown cheering or crickets chirping. No inbetween there. The extras could have used a little coaching.
Some of the songs were pretty good and this is coming from a girl who is not a huge fan of country music and I still have “Give In To Me” stuck in my head today. You might be better off skipping the movie and picking up the soundtrack, but I’d call this a rental. It is not going to get Awards buzz which is why it was pushed back to a January 7th release date instead of getting in before the end of 2010. The three “supporting” (i.e. main) characters are pretty decent in their own respects, but Gwyneth Paltrow spends far too much of this movie in a haze that doesn’t give us enough to root for.
Oh, and you totally see the ending coming a mile away. That’s all I’m sayin’.