It makes sense that Country Strong, the new drama starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a big time honky-tonk queen on the ropes, would resemble the sort of songs its characters sing. There’s infidelity, drunkenness, jealousy, pickup trucks, insecurity, trains, a fistfight and an untimely death. The only things missing are momma and prison. And while the film’s story might make for an effective country ballad, it simply doesn’t translate on screen. The mess these characters find themselves in is wrought with melodrama, confusion and just plain nonsense.
Attempting to get her career back on track after the meltdown of all onstage meltdowns, Kelly Canter (Paltrow) is still riddled with demons. Her husband James (Tim McGraw), who also serves as her manager, is pushing her too hard and too fast to return, while she tries to deal with her feelings towards up-and-coming singer/songwriter Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), who’s touring with her. Adding to her woes is Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a young singer who’s poised to push her out of the spotlight. With these four on the road together, the tour they’re all playing on is fraught with drama, most of it stemming from Canter’s indecisiveness about whether she wants to continue her career or retire.
The four principals are quite good, whether they’re belting out tunes in front of thousands or bringing their character’s more introspective moments to life. There’s no doubt that Paltrow, Hedlund and Meester have immersed themselves it the country music culture and it pays off as none of them sing a false note or take a wrong step in their performances. But, oh, the script by writer/director Shana Feste! Riddled with clichés, its characters’ actions make little sense and the story becomes frustrating and nearly comical. The film’s climax is not only shameless and cheap, as it makes little sense in the light of what we’ve previously seen. Despite its solid cast, Strong winds up weak where it counts – in the story department.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.