Country Strong: Plot Weak—Movie

What to make of Country Strong, written and directed by Shana Feste?  The film is ostensibly the story of country singer Kelly Kanter (Gwyneth Paltrow), who, on the insistence of her manager husband, James (Tim McGraw), is prematurely released from a rehab center for alcohol and drug abuse to begin a new tour. But somewhere along the line the secondary story of the secondary leads takes over and unfortunately for the film, it is far more interesting.  

Paltrow is fine as the beleaguered singer. She seemingly has the accent down and she can sing, but something is off. Maybe we’ve seen this story too many times, but you never really connect with her or her story. As we learn what caused her most recent collapse, it’s obvious to all that she’s still struggling with inner demons. But what got her started down that path to begin with? We never really find out and if we did it might make the story more compelling. 

Enter Garrett Hedlund as Beau Hutton and Gossip Girl’s  Leighton Meester as Chiles Stanton. Hutton is an aspiring singer-songwriter who worked with Kelly while she was in rehab and had/has a love affair with her. Stanton is a former beauty queen hoping to make it as a singer. Both are recruited to open for Kelly on her comeback tour and the two of them begin to fall in love while on the road.  These two have terrific chemistry together and boy, can they sing! Hedlund’s voice has a fabulous tonal quality and sounds very much like Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake would have sounded before the alcohol set in. Meester is fantastic, and truth be told, her character is way more interesting than Paltrow’s. Often seeming like the only person who can really act on Gossip Girl, she shines in Country Strong.

And riddle me this…in a country music film with actors who are not professional singers singing, why have a real country singer, Tim McGraw, if you don’t intend to have him sing?   McGraw can act. He’s actually very good in this movie, but he could have done more.

Country Strong has potential, but never reaches it. Wait for Netflix and then watch it for Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester. Let’s hope we get to see more of both of them in future movies.

2 nuggets out of 4

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