Washed up country star Kelly Canter (Paltrow, “Iron Man 2”) enters the movie in rehab for an alcohol addiction. She meets counselor Beau Hutton (played by Garret Hedlund, “Tron: Legacy”), who also happens to be a country singer songwriter, and the two hit it off right from the get go. Kelly’s husband/manager, James Canter (played by Tim McGraw, “Dirty Girl”), takes her out of rehab early to do a comeback tour. Beau comes along, and being the sensitive husband he is, James enlists young and pretty rising country star Chiles Stanton (played by Leighton Meester, “Going the Distance”) to open for the tour.
First and foremost, if you’re looking for a feel good movie about redemption, don’t see “Country Strong;” there is nothing happy about this movie. It is a long – nearly two hour – uphill battle against alcoholism, guilt, personal inadequacy and more alcoholism.
Secondly, the script is a terrible jumble. There is hardly any backstory to the main characters, the dialogue is awkward at times and painfully cheesy at others, the love triangle is as predictable as it is pathetic and the transitions are terrible. The amount of important information delivered by news reporters in expository dialogue is embarrassing, and the amount of times a knock on the door is followed by an important conversation between two characters is downright insulting.
There are, however, redeeming factors to the movie. The acting, for instance, is pretty fantastic. Paltrow’s singing voice is top of the line, and she manages to live up to every country stereotype almost flawlessly. Her country twang comes and goes, but otherwise she nailed the role.
Surprisingly however, so did Garret Hedlund. Being the star of “Tron: Legacy” and a co-star in “Country Strong,” (and with both roles being so vastly different while being filmed so close together), his ability to completely commit to the role of Beau Hutton was tested. Needless to say, he passed. More impressive yet is the fact that prior to this role, Hedlund had no musical training. None. In “Country Strong” he performs several musical numbers, and even has a separate song on the soundtrack. To have learned the guitar so quickly, and so well, only adds to his impressive performance.
Tim McGraw was also in top form. His role as the insensitive and distant money-driven husband is a far cry from his role as an open-minded and lovable husband in “The Blind Side” back in 2009, and he makes the role his. He doesn’t perform a single number in the movie, but does have one on the soundtrack.
Leighton Meester is another surprise as far as good singing voices go, and while there is nothing extraordinary about her acting itself, she definitely lends her talent to the overall product. She never falls short, and holds her own admirably while sharing the screen with veteran performer Paltrow.
Country music, as expected, runs rampant in this movie; with performances in dive bars and in stadiums alike, it makes up roughly a full third of the movie. All of it is surprisingly good, from the actors’ performances right down to the lyrics themselves. Unfortunately, the abundant inclusion of musical numbers is possibly the best part of the script.
Writer/Director Shana Feste is the worst thing about this movie. The basic story of “Country Strong” is strong, and has lots of potential to be stronger, but the way Feste delivers it makes it seem silly, hopeless altogether bad. Even the phenomenal acting and the soul-bearing musical performances by the cast can’t hide the fact that this writer, (who was the nanny for Tobey Maguire’s daughter while she wrote the movie), should probably quit while she’s ahead.
Overall, “Country Strong” has its moments, but if you absolutely have to see it, wait until it hits DVD.