"I’m going to wear you down” is the opening lyric to one of the songs featured in “Country Strong.” And damn straight if we aren’t all worn to the bone as we slog through writer/director Shana Feste’s film about a fallen country singer (Gwyneth Paltrow) who gets a chance at redemption.
‘I’m going to wear you down” is the opening lyric to one of the songs featured in “Country Strong.”
And sure enough, you’re worn to the bone by the time you’re done slogging through writer/director Shana Feste’s warbling tale about a fallen country singer (Gwyneth Paltrow) seeking redemption.
Feste strikes one sour note after another with a script that relies on nothing but a steady diet of saccharin and contrivances. Her worst offense, though, is laziness. I mean, how slothful can you get when you use bubble-headed TV reporters to serve as a sort of Greek chorus to fill you in on the characters’ backgrounds and explain the plot? That’s not storytelling. That’s headline news.
It not only shortchanges the audience, it also slights a surprisingly strong ensemble of actors, including the film’s two standouts, “Gossip Girl’s” Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund of “Tron: Legacy.”
Feste (the equally insipid “The Greatest”) undoubtedly has good intentions, but they’re hard to spot when all she’s really doing is ripping off last year’s “Crazy Heart.” But “Strong” can’t come within a country mile of that Oscar-winner, and that includes the music.
Feste’s film feels more like a daytime soap, bubbling with infidelity, addiction, marital woes, grief, loss and a sick kid who’s the game changer. She also uses a small bird being cared for in a tiny wooden cigar box as a running metaphor for a dead baby.
And if that’s not enough, Feste piles on heaping helpings of mental and emotional distress that even an Oscar winner like Paltrow can’t hope to sell.
Fresh out of rehab for alcohol addiction, Paltrow’s Kelly Canter embarks on a three-city “Encore” arena tour that starts in Nashville, continues to Houston and ends in Dallas, the location of the drunken fall from grace that landed her in rehab.
Real-life country star Tim McGraw is the only lead in the film who doesn’t have a singing part. (Way to play to your strengths, Feste.) McGraw is Kelly’s money-hungry husband/manager, James Canter, who may or may not be boinking Meester’s Chiles Stanton (think: Carrie Underwood), a young beauty queen seeking a career in country music. She’s joined by Hedlund (looking and singing like a real Nashville singer-songwriter) as Beau, who may or may not be boinking Kelly.
The narrative never finds any harmony or melody, as Feste switches alarmingly between the drama of the aging star’s comeback and the Really Big Problem between Kelly and James that’s never met head-on.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the will-they-or-won’t-they fall in love angle that Feste dials up for Chiles and Beau. She spends so much time focusing her camera on them (who can blame her, really – they’re beautiful) that it totally detracts from the weight of the real story she’s trying to tell with Kelly.
None of Feste’s characters are even developed enough to merit an investment of your time or concern. Feste writes Kelly as a one-dimensional lush, leaving her dark side disappointingly unexplored. What really drove her to drink? Fame? Fortune? Love? We’ll never know.
Feste’s final frames are symbolic of the film’s bipolar feel. One part is a bit risky, the other a Hollywood copout.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com.
COUNTRY STRONG (PG-13 for the following reasons: thematic elements, involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content.) Cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester. 1 star out of 4.