Country Strong…or Not?
A movie review by "Cowboy" Troy
First of all, let me start by saying that I'm no Roger Ebert. I also realize that by stating my opinion about the new feature film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw, I'm opening myself up to criticism of my very own for even attempting to properly dissect this movie. So this had better be good, right? That's also why I purposely waited more than a week since the Casper premiere to give this film a chance to prove itself at the box office. To my credit, I have watched my share of movies and think I can be somewhat fair and objective.
So, here goes!
"Country Strong" is not a bad film for the story that it tries to tell. It's a bad film for the details that are left out or glossed over in the telling of that story; details that one might think crucial in order to establish a strong empathy, or apathy, for its characters, which I believe a good movie should be able to do.
Take, for instance, the lead character, Kelly Canter, played by Oscar Award-winning Gwyneth Paltrow. We first see her half-dressed in a bedroom listening to her "sponsor," played by Garrett Hedlund (an aspiring Country musician), playing his new song for her. Why does she have a "sponsor?" Apparently Kelly is an established veteran in the industry. Her alcoholism several months prior resulted in a tragic concert in Dallas in which a drunken, 5 months pregnant Kelly, tripped over a microphone cord and fell off the stage. Kelly sacrificed not only her unborn child in the accident, but presumably her career. Hey...Kelly's in REHAB!
But we don't learn of all these transpiring events at the beginning of the film. We are left wondering why the characters act as they do, and are given glimpses into their reasons during brief dialogues scattered throughout the film. So Kelly...fresh from her rehab stint,(without us really knowing why except that she messed up) is suffice it to say; all better. Her manager/husband, James, played by Tim McGraw, seems far less concerned with her mental health and sobriety than he is with re-establishing her career. Kelly's resurrection is already mapped out with a 3 city tour that will take them back to the ill-fated city of Dallas, to make things right. To seemingly foreshadow a happy outcome, Kelly, on that last day of rehab, shows her husband an orphaned baby bird that she has placed in a box to raise and nurture.
From then on the movie only grows more convoluted and weepy. Kelly's "sponsor," Beau, is allowed to join the tour as the opening act; as is a cute up-and-coming songbird named Chiles Stanton. (played by Leighton Meester) She flirts with both hubby and "sponsor," and serves as a catalyst that throws Kelly back into depression again...and again...and again. What's billed as a superstar lineup rapidly deteriorates without much of an explanation. Why is Kelly Canter even agreeing to do this when she's obviously not ready? Even the bird disappears halfway through the show without even an afterthought.
Unfortunately, this is the way most of the movie is seen. The presentation is very shallow and it lacks common theatrical devices that would help tie things together more effectively and in a short amount of time. Without proper character development and set-up, the movie races to get to it's finish time of two hours without building enough of a case for itself. Characters get angry. Characters break down. And characters fall off of the deep end...several times. And we just keep wondering why we should care?
There were things that I truly liked about the movie. The acting was very well done. The music was incredible. And all of these events culminated into Kelly's return to Dallas and a triumphant final concert. I will admit that I got "tingles" as she raises up from the arena depths on a platform and launches into her "signature" song.
I wish they would have ended it there. Unfortunately they didn't and we will forever be left to wonder why this movie ever ended up with this title.
Those are my thoughts. Please feel free to leave yours.