Country (not that) Strong, but not that Weak either!

First off, allow me to preface this review by informing you that I am, by far, NOT a country music fan. There’s just something about most of it that just, well, it just doesn’t do it for me most of the time. That’s why I was surprised that the trailer for Country Strong grabbed my attention. But I really wanted to see it! I mean, did you see the trailer? Did you see the cute kid that she goes to meet in the classroom? Plus, Tim McGraw acting, plus Gwyneth Paltrow singing, (She did well in Duets.) along with Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), and Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl, Date Night) seemed to be a pretty decent cast. (Also, the musician/performer in me has an affinity for most things musical and on stage!) Here’s the trailer in case you haven’t seen it yourself. Tell me that it doesn’t have a sense of inspiration that makes you curious to see it!

So, just how strong was this movie’s performance? Well, let’s just say that it is January and gyms across the nation are still offering great sign up deals. The movie is a good movie. Don’t get me wrong. It just could have been stronger. It tells the story of Kelly Canter (Paltrow) as a country music star that, released from rehab for alcoholism too soon, still battles with personal demons of alcohol, torturing memories of times past filled with love and promise, and the long for affection from a husband (McGraw) whose only apparent interest in her now is as her agent/manager. We follow her story as she is on her rebound tour in Texas. Along for the ride her husband/manager James (McGraw); Beau (Hedlund), the “forbidden” love interest and local town country music legend; and Chiles Stanton (Meester), a former “Ms. Dallas,” recruited by James, who is an over-enthusiastic, and quite possibly an emotionally unstable, aspiring country star greedily chomping at the crumbs left over from Kelly’s table of stardom. 

The story of Kelly Canter is strong as we see her having struggled and disappointed herself, her fans, and those around her, and now is fighting to overcome those obstacles that lay behind and before her. But in the midst of all her struggles, and all of the music, the movie seems to just travel along without occasion until the scene in which Canter connects with a young boy in a classroom. The emotional level of/connection with the film takes a big upswing from there and allows the audience to feel a sense of attachment to the characters that helps to tie it all together until the end. I remember watching that scene and saying: “This is what I’ve been waiting for.” in reference to the emotional connection with the characters, and hoping it had come sooner. 

The problem, however, is that Country Strong tries to carry more than what it should. The movie promises to be a great story of redemption and begins by keeping a sense of balance between the characters’ stories, music, and emotions, but that promise and balance quickly disappears. The audience may find themselves more interested in some of the side-stories/side-romances than Kelly Canter’s story. Also music ends up taking the front seat often as the story takes a backseat. Most of the emotions for the audience derived from the songs themselves instead of the story, displacing that delicate balance.

I am a lover of music and I do enjoy it when a film ties music into its story. This film had a lot of appropriate music. But “a lot” in this instance almost equals “too much.” (I have to agree with Dustin at PopGoesTheCulture on this one…see the blogroll—>) Some of the songs added to the scenes in a beautiful fashion, while others ended up being nothing more than fillers and an opportunity for the camera to pan back and forth between actors faces while waiting for the song to end. (Either that or just a chance to prove that some actors can sing too! Kudos to Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund, and Leighton Meester for their singing skills on screen. According to an interview I watched, Paltrow actually learned from Faith Hill and Beyonce on how to have a better stage presence! It worked for her!). The soundtrack is, undoubtedly, impressive, but not all of the songs in the film needed to be full length.

"That's how it's done, Sweetheart!"

Directed by Shana Feste (Greatest) and produced by Tobey Maguire (yes, good ol’ Spidey), Country Strong could have strengthened up a few things in regards to storytelling. Unfortunately, as the film continues, predictability sets in and the ending is soon plain in sight. The music, while enjoyable and mostly contributory, took over quite a few scenes. However, I did still enjoy the film. Country fans will love it, music fans will appreciate it, romance fans will cry in it, movie lovers will predict it. I enjoyed it. But if the film itself would have been as strong as the musical performances, then this would be an A+ movie.

Thanks for reading!

Enjoy if you wish…or don’t enjoy! Happy Watching!

TheSp1der’s Score3 out of 5 stars for “Country Strong

for questions on the new rating system, please visit this page HERE.

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8 comments

  1. Yeah…this is one I do not plan on catching. Not in this life, or the next. I also feel like the trailer tells you the entire movie (thank the Lord). I pretty much see it going down something like this: Typical fallen star goes to revive her career w/ the help of her spouse and a talented person that inspires her. Something bad happens at the very middle of the film (most likely romantic triangle complication and/or a betrayal by her spouse in relation to her career). Between then and the end of the movie she feels she cannot succeed afterall (probably starts trying to drink again or whatever her demon was at the beginning of the film). But wait! Something/someone tells her she can perform, get her husbad back, or complete whatever outer goal and inner struggle she is trying to complete simultaneously, and then she does it successfully, one last jab at the antagonist, happy ending, credits.

    I could be totally wrong, but doesn’t sound like something I wanna see.

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  2. I’m not a country fan (nor Gwyneth) either, but I was actually intrigued by it when I saw the trailer. But no way I’d see this in theater, probably Netflix. I did read this article about Hedlund that actually makes me respect him more (though he still hasn’t sold me acting-wise): http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2011/01/12/tron-legacy-garrett-hedlunds-hard-times-on-the-road-to-fame/ His dedication to his craft is pretty impressive, and like you said, these actors can sing!

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    • thank you for sharing that article. I hadn’t realized all that about Hedlund. his dedication is something to be desired by many actors! Funny that he learned the guitar so fast, you couldn’t tell in the movie!

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  3. Honestly, throughout the entire movie, I just couldn’t get into the story. It was just one trainwreck after another.
    It seemed like the “moral of the story” was just too simplified (You can either have the fame and glory OR the love of your life.) I just can’t believe that to be true – while there are many failures when it comes to love and fame, those that are grounded can make it work.
    I was disgusted that Chiles made the choice that she did! She is so incredibly young and has her whole entire life in front of her! She basically allowed some punk of a first boyfriend make a major, life-changing choice for her. Why not make it big, have a little fun, and if the romance was meant to be, let it happen?
    The story of Kelly was just very, very sad. But, if the story had been told better, she would have had my sympathy instead of my pity. I never connected to the character because I couldn’t explain away her guilt either. So while her husband treated her as a cash cow (and that is unforgivable, as was his complete disinterest in her alcoholism, mental illness), I couldn’t “feel” for their lost relationship/marriage. Adriana and I talked about it and she felt so much for Kelly because “you don’t get to the bottom of the pit alone.” Sure, she was married, this man should have protected the family, but to me – she made the choices she made and I just couldn’t look at her the same way. I generally connect well with women characters, but I just never made the connection – I felt left out in the rain on this one: a girl without the guts to even attempt her dream and the other a victim of alcoholism.
    So, I believe that the two stories were supposed to be a yin and a yang. Hope and destruction, woven together. But honestly, the hope was so short-sighted, so young, and so willing to sacrifice for her boyfriend (I know, I know… “Soulmate”) that it just didn’t have the weight to balance out the complete and utter destruction of Kelly.

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    • wow! quite the synopsis! I enjoyed reading this perspective. Your, shall I call it, “harshness” towards the two female roles points out a different view of them than I hadn’t greatly considered! Thanks for sharing it. You made me laugh in your “pity vs sympathy” argument! The story was indeed sadder than I had anticipated, but I tend to disagree with you on the outcome of Chiles Stanton and am curious how you have such a disinterest in the choices that Kelly Canter made, but care so much about the choices Chiles made. To prevent spoilers we may have to continue this in person! ooohh! I love the things you brought out about this film! Thanks for going to it with us!

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