Directed by: Shana Feste
Premise: A troubled country music star (Gwyneth Paltrow) is prematurely released from rehab by her manager and husband (Tim McGraw) and launched into a concert tour. Her opening acts include an earnest singer-songwriter (Garrett Hedlund) she met in rehab and a star struck beauty queen with dreams of fame (Leighton Meester).
What Works: Country Strong is a pleasant surprise. The film is well acted all around, especially by Gwyneth Paltrow and Garrett Hedlund. The actors are able to fulfill the demands of the dramatic scenes and they convincingly play professional musicians. Also impressive are Tim McGraw and Leighton Meester. McGraw is cast in a role that is traditionally villainous but rather than follow the abusive template of someone like Ike Turner, McGraw manages to make the character somewhat sympathetic as he copes with his troubled wife and attempts to rescue her career. Meester also breaks out of her beauty queen role a bit, revealing the character’s dreams but also her insecurities, making her a much more interesting and empathetic character. The storytelling of Country Strong is well paced and it tosses in occasional twists into the plot, which manage to break up the predictable nature of the story.
What Doesn’t: There is not much in Country Strong that is new. This is a fairly standard story of self destructive celebrity and there is little in this that hasn’t been done better in films like The Doors, Ray, and Walk the Line. The story struggles mostly in the way it handles addiction. The cravings of an addict are generally unending but Paltrow’s seem to come and go at the whim of the story. The film poses a troubling idea that fame and survival or somehow incompatible. This theme fails to account for personal responsibility, favoring fatalism instead. This is a disappointment as it misses a potentially character defining moments for Hedlund and Meester’s characters when they face the choice between fame and love.
Bottom Line: Despite some weaknesses, Country Strong is a satisfying but average film. It is in many ways a big budget version of a Lifetime network movie but as that it works.
Episode: #323 (January 23, 2011)