Country Strong

28 Jan

Title: Country Strong
Shana Feste
Shana Feste
Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester, Garrett Hedlund
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content
112 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

I’ve many times heard people say Gwyneth Paltrow is horribly overrated as an actress. And every time I’ve heard that I’ve been very vocal in my complete disagreement with that assessment, because I really do think Ms. Paltrow is absolutely amazing in anything she’s in, and not one bit overrated. Now, as for Country Strong, her latest, I thought the film itself was ultimately a bit worse than I what I thought it would be like, but that’s because I actually had some pretty high expectations. But that being said, I still thought Ms. Paltrow was amazing in it, giving it her all as a country singer, tackling her character’s issues head-on and singing pretty damn good in the process, I actually had her performance here ranked as 19th in my favorite performances given by an actress in a leading role in all of 2010.

But yeah, Country Strong wasn’t that amazing even though Ms. Paltrow, and the rest of the cast at that, tried their best to make the film succeed. What happened was just a case of a pretty messy script, full of unnecessary clichés and dull bits that made the end result a rather sour affair. I still thought the film was much much better than what its 19% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes would seem to indicate, but my expectations for it were pretty high, I was expecting a film I would grade an A-minus, and what we got was a solid little B-grade film.

The four main castmembers (Ms. Paltrow, as well as Garrett Hedlund, Tim McGraw and Leighton Meester) are what make this film much better than its script would have warranted, they really get into their characters emotions and add a depth to them that most certainly wasn’t there in the screenplay. The balance these actors find within their characters is really something to behold, they make the film compelling all on their own.

Roger Ebert starts his review of the film (to which he awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four) saying that Country Strong is “one of the best movies of 1957”, and saying he means that as a total compliment but that, unfortunately, times have now changed. And that’s a pretty dead-on assessment of what we get here, a film that has a decidedly throwback feel, with good amounts of melodrama and several other thematic elements and characters you would have been more likely to have found five decades ago than just now.

Ms. Paltrow plays a character said by writer-director Shana Feste to have been inspired by Britney Spears, a country singer who has had her fair share of troubles, and who seems to have been released from rehab too soon for her own good. And I really did love how everything fit together here. I mean, sure, Country Strong was something less than what I thought we were gonna get, but that’s because it was something much different. And what we get is still pretty damn cool, full of awesome musical performances and Gwyneth Paltrow tackling a role that she makes all her own, embedding Kelly Canter with all her beauty and charisma and thus making her rather sympathetic.

Tim McGraw plays James, the man who married Kelly back in the day, and that now, after all her issues, remains by her side as a dutiful manager who wants to salvage a great career with a comeback tour, but that as a husband is still reeling with the blow of having lost his unborn baby when Kelly drunkenly fell off-stage at a concert and had a miscarriage. Garrett Hedlund plays Beau Hutton, a guy who also sings, and pretty damn well at that, but does it just for his and the people’s enjoyment, and not so much for the money side of it. Leighton Meester plays Chiles Stanton, a former beauty queen who wants a shot at music stardom and who has cast a spell on both James and Beau, but you also get a hint that those two feel a bit more than that towards Kelly.

The above reads as some really melodramatic fare, which Country Strong is, but it’s one done really efficiently, I mean, it has some very corny stuff in it, but the warmth and sympathy these actors put into their roles make it all work out in the end. And that’s really what a film like this ultimately needs, we know from the second we are introduced to Beau working at Kelly’s rehab center and then to Chiles that they’ll eventually join Kelly’s tour as the opening acts, but with all four main performers doing such a great job with their characters they make these icky situations feel quite real, at least emotionally speaking, which is what matters.

The tension between each of these characters is very soap opera-ish in its tension, Kelly is jealous of Chiles who in turn admires her while also is seemingly starting something up with Beau and James which creates an antipathy between those two, while James for his part is trying to save his broken marriage and Beau has some feelings towards Kelly.

It’s all very exaggerated, but I personally ate it all up, especially because I always ended up losing myself in the musical performances, which we impeccably performed by whomever took the stage (though, strangely enough, the only one who doesn’t is Tim McGraw). Country Strong was less than what I thought it would originally be, but I thought it was much more than people were saying, and I though Ms. Paltrow, as per usual, was just impeccable here.

Grade: B


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