DVD, Blu-Ray Review
Directed by Shana Feste, Written by Shana Feste, 117 minutes, Rated PG-13.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Like a bad reality show for the country music set, “Country Strong” plays out all the melodramas one would expect from a movie about alcoholic pop-stars. With its boot-stomping new-country soundtrack and incoherent storytelling, the film will only please on a musical level—and even that is regulated to fans of country music. From its cliché plot to the several false conclusions, each one more bizarre than the last, "Country Strong" is an overlong piece of fluff. It's certainly better than you'd expect with occasional spurts of enjoyment from its key players, but it isn’t enough to warrant its two-hour running time.
"Country Strong" portrays the "Behind the Music" dramatization of fictional country music superstar Kelly Canter, as realized by the far too-beautiful-and-healthy-to-be-a-drunk Gwyneth Paltrow. Since spiraling into rehab after a recent onstage fall and subsequent miscarriage, Kelly meets the unfortunately named orderly and musician Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund).
This doesn’t please her husband, James (Tim McGraw), who pressures her into leaving rehab and head out on the road. Kelly, impressed by the songs Beau serenaded her with in rehab, invites him to be her opening act, because, you know, that's how these things work, and James invites a younger version of Kelly, the equally unfortunately named Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester). Things play out much as you'd expect: Kelly fools around with Beau, suspects her husband of fooling around with Chiles, and amidst her jealousy drinks and cries and drinks.
Feste’s script isn’t clear as to whom this story is about. Is the film about Kelly’s descent into pills and booze? Or is it about Beau’s rise to the top while trying to hang on to his integrity? The film is rarely clear on this front and, in trying to make room for both, loses the narrative. There are so many drag out fights and tears that the film can’t make heads or tails of who’s got it the hardest.
Occasionally, the cast does break through the script’s shortcomings in fleeting moments of enjoyment. Paltrow remains the most equipped to carry her scenes, but even she can’t look convincing while melodramatically reaching for the bottle. The rest serve as one note characters: James is stern, Beau is charming and Chiles is cute.
By all accounts, “Country Strong” is better that most will give it credit for. Sadly, it still gives way to melodrama more often than it should, making the gloomier moments appear unintentionally funny and the happier ones, unintentionally sad.