Country Strong's latest trailer reads "A Golden Globe Nominated Picture". To be clear, the movie actually did receive a nomination. To keep things in perspective, it's lone acknowledgement was for "Best Original Song in a Motion Picture". With a newbie director, Shana Feste, and an up and coming young cast, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical prior to viewing the film. Reviews for Country Strong have been overwhelmingly negative and I saw Feste's only other major release, The Greatest, earlier this year. I found her first picture to be heartfelt, but terribly over-dramatic and over-acted. Inevitably, I set the bar pretty low for the film. However, as I always do, I remained objective.
Country Strong centers around a Country music megastar named Kelly Canter (Paltrow). One year prior, Canter, who was five months pregnant at the time, tripped over a wire and fell off the stage during a concert in Dallas, TX. While being treated at the hospital, the doctors found she had a 0.19 blood-alcohol level. She was charged with Disorderly Conduct and sent to rehab (again). While in rehab, Canter meets a young, talented musician name Beau (Hedlund). When her husband/manager, James Canter (McGraw), arrives at the rehab facility to discharge her a month early, Beau clearly objects and senses trouble. Kelly, not fully treated, must get back on the road to do a short three show tour in Texas. Teamed with opening acts Chiles Stanton (played by Leighton Meeseter) and Beau's band, Kelly must face her demons all the way back to the big finale in Dallas.
Country Strong is very different from what I initially imagined. I was expecting something along the lines of the 2009 Academy Award winning film Crazy Heart, except with a female lead. Well it's safe to say Paltrow is no Jeff Bridges, but this film isn't a one-trick-pony. Filled with multiple story lines and main characters, Country Strong feels more like a 2 hour soap opera than a movie. Much like her role in the Mathematics based drama Proof, Paltrow once again shows she's an expert at overacting. I saw a similar effect in the director's other 2010 piece The Greatest. In that movie Susan Sarandon spends the entire film bawling her eyes out, and it's completely unnecessary. Country Strong contains many not-so-shocking similarities.
Despite its countless flaws with Paltrow, the plot, and the direction, Country Strongoffers strong acting from its two male leads. Tim McGraw shows his range by pulling a complete 180 from his character in The Blind Side. When it comes to his prize possession, Kelly Canter, he is a manager first and a husband second. He has his reasons, which I won't give away, but McGraw is easily the antagonist in the film. As a major underlying theme in the movie, you can't have fame and love. At this point in their marriage, McGraw clearly chooses fame. Not all musicians can make it as an actor or actress in Hollywood, however McGraw clearly has a future on the big screen. Furthermore, Garrett Hedlund was excellent in the film as well. His character finds himself mixed up in this web of drama, yet it's evident that he's the only one who truly "gets it". In the end, the story is as much about Beau as it is about Kelly. Because of Hedlund and McGraw, the movie contains some tolerable moments.
Unless you're a huge fan of Country music I suggest shying away from this film because it's definitely below average effort. A few aspects of the film felt regurgitated and there's at least 15 minutes that could be shaved from the running time. All in all, Country Strong has very little to offer.