Title: Country Strong
Director: Shana Feste
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund, Tim McGraw, Leighton Meester
Not everyone is a country-music fan, and that includes yours truly. With that said, many people will be able to get behind Country Strong. Did it work in too many country tunes that could possibly annoy mainstream audiences? You bet-ya. However, the 112 minute flick also worked in plenty of powerful performances. Which ended up being the hook that caught – and kept – this guy’s attention.
Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) is a local performer at all the local bars in Nashville, Tennessee. The scruffy looking cowboy oozes with talent and is content to hang around and perform for the hard-working locals. In choosing to stay where he is, he needs to work a day-job like all musicians. He is more-or-less an orderly at a local rehab center and he’s formed a “bond” with country superstar Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is trying to get off the sauce. Kelly has struggled with alcohol her entire career and her manager/husband James (Tim McGraw) is hoping this latest stint will get her back on track.
It’s obvious if Kelly fails to get back out on the road, James loses his meal ticket. Truth is, both of them are blinded by the limelight of their careers and continue to make poor decisions. The latest debacle is pulling Kelly out of rehab early so she can finish off a tour in Texas. Kelly agrees to leave only if Beau is her opening act. James isn’t thrilled about that stipulation, since he has his eyes on another local talent in former beauty queen Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), despite her nervousness of performing. A deal is struck that has everyone hopping on a tour bus, even though all parties involved are not prepared mentally for what this last leg of the tour will bring.
The execution of this flick is similar to a band working in a jam session into one of their songs. First portion of the song is catchy and gets the audience involved. The middle – where a band will just start messing around with their instruments – will have the audience wonder if they know where they’re going with this story. When structure is introduced back into the song (story), the viewing audience will be very pleased with the performance. By which people will be saying, “That was pretty cool.”
What is badass about this flick is the acting of the four-piece cast. Leighton Meester had the audience believing that she was a true country star. Garrett Hedlund (coming off a horrible performance in Tron: Legacy) had me doing a 180 on what I thought of him as an actor. He brought a rich passion to the stage. Gwyneth didn’t come out strong but she found her long legs as the story opened up. And filled in certain plot holes. McGraw was steady once again, just as he was in The Blind Side.
One recurring issue was relating the underlying storylines between all the characters. Certain character actions never really add up or make sense in random parts. There is an understanding that key moments need to happen, but the transitioning to them was off the mark. For instance, Beau is mainly brought on tour to monitor Kelly and her drinking. Thing is, he only executes this duty like a husband who forgot to pick-up tampons for the wife (U-turn style). Lots of awkward sequences (planned and unplanned) are found here. The editing of the script isn’t choppy, but it isn’t delivered in a completely smooth manner. Fortunately, each individual character and scene is strangely captivating for this type of story.
Overall, Country Strong is just that. The flick is strong enough to overcome a few weaknesses found in the movie mechanic’s department. Don’t expect a hotel trashing after-party scenario found in other musician based flicks such as Rock Star. Think more of an Almost Famous style as measuring stick. Funny thing is, the title is almost an oxymoron based on how the ending plays out. First off, if that is the definition of “Country Strong” then count me out. Second, that sums up the one note the band (filmmakers) could not hit.
Rating 3.5 out of 5
Review by Joe Belcastro