Country Strong

January 12, 2011
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Shana Festes’ “Country Strong” is a fairly upbeat movie about four people’s struggles in the country music business. Even at its lowest moments the film never manages to be a complete downer and there’s something to be said for movies like that. Not all of us can endure gritty, depressing character studies.

Every actor in the movie is convincing enough in their roles to make the film watchable and shockingly the singing is great. You wouldn’t expect Gwyneth Paltrow to be a good singer just as you wouldn’t expect country music star Tim McGraw to be a good actor. But I was pleasantly surprised by both. Paltrow could easily sell albums and McGraw could be in more movies.

The film is about redemption; a veteran country star Kelly Canter (Paltrow) gets another chance to make a name for herself after a rough career. Yes, this storyline has been done many times before but as long as there’s a strong lead it can work out. But any potential for those interesting conflicts were already in the past.

The film begins with Kelly leaving rehab and planning to do a comeback tour. Of course she’s not healed because about three scenes later she’s drinking again. However we never see her hit rock bottom, which is what should’ve happened. She needed to do one idiotic thing and rebuild herself so we could feel more attached to her. Instead we get one scene of her dancing drunk at a bar and then right after she’s happily singing to a kid with cancer. Her character was all over the place and eventually you stop caring.

Though in Canter’s defense it was difficult for her to get really developed because she had to share the story with three other people, and all the baggage they came with. Also coming on the tour was her manager/husband James Canter (McGraw) and two up-and- coming country singers, Beau Hutton and Chiles Stanton (played pitch perfectly by Garrett Hedland and Leighton Meester) as the opening acts.

From the ads the film looked like the Gwyneth Paltrow show, but Hutton and Stanton became the more interesting characters because they were the only ones singing the majority of the time. Meanwhile, Kelly is pushed off to the side. Hutton is an honest, charming man, who’d rather play at a small bar than in stadiums. And Stanton is a sweet, perky beauty queen turned singer. She idolizes Kelly but you still get the feeling that she would also be fine with playing in a bar. Watching them reminded me that sometimes it’s fun to watch a film where the main characters just make music with no drug problems attached.

But there was another problem. The film was stuck between being a second-chance film and an uprising of new talent movie. Both premises are good but it needed to have a main focus. As a result the balance was off. Certain characters like James were underused.

The climax of the film is another concert. Yet the scene is spectacular, high energy and exhilarating. The best in the entire film. You could feel the same excitement the crowd in the arena is feeling. Canter rises up to the stage in a red dress. Thousands of fans cheering her on as she belts out her new song.

Feste could have ended the film right there, but no. It had to keep meandering on and a last minute curve ball had to be thrown in to rev up the emotion. A little too late, unfortunately.

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