Country Strong Directed by: Shana Feste Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester, Tim McGraw Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 7, 2011
PLOT: The film follows the comeback of a troubled country singer (Paltrow) and the young man (Hedlund) who helps mount her return to stardom.
WHO'S IT FOR? This one's for country fans, pure and simple. You don't have to be a country fan to enjoy it, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. Die hard Paltrow fans will be happy to see her return as a leading lady (we're not counting Iron Man 2) and Gossip Girl fans might like to see a different side of Meester.
EXPECTATIONS: My biggest fear was that this would be a chick flick, watered down rehash of Crazy Heart. The material isn't exactly revolutionary, but it had the potential for some fine performances, but I have to admit that I wasn't exactly holding my breath on this one.
ACTORS: Garrett Hedlund as Beau: Beau is an anomaly in the world of film. He arguably has the most screen time yet in this flick, but I was no closer to figuring out what made this character tick than I was in the beginning. It seems pretty clear that he's supposed to serve as some sort of conscience in the troubled marriage between Kelly and her husband, but he's not much of a stand up guy himself. Still, it doesn't seem fair to place this all on Hedlund's shoulders as the script is pretty flat. Hedlund does his best at brooding and singing, and he's not half bad at it, but it leaves a lot to be desired. Score: 5
Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly: Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow won an Oscar? If the Academy was in the business of re-possessing statuettes, Gwyneth Paltrow should be on a lookout based on this performance alone. She shows the emotional range of a zombie, juggling dazed looks and uncontrollable sobs with about as much subtlety as a Michael Bay movie. The real trouble came when I figured about halfway through that I was supposed to be feeling something for this character, but I was never able to figure out what. Were they going for the "it's a disease and she can't help it" angle? Or was it "fame is the real monster" sort of thing? Even after watching the movie, I'm still not sure. Score: 3
Tim McGraw as James: Here at The Scorecard Review, we're not in the business of one word reviews, but if we were "douche" is about the only word that comes to mind. There's not a lot of dimension to the character who seems to constantly serve as more of a business manager than a husband. I mean, I get that the movie was going for that, but how much time do we need to spend fleshing out that one defining trait? According to this movie, about 90 minutes should do. Score: 3
Leighton Meester as Chiles: The only emotion I could really muster up for this character was pity. And it's not just because of the unfortunate name. Chiles seems to serve as a sort of punching bag for just about all of the other characters. At first glance, she's just an airhead beauty queen, but the movie suggests that she's something more. Unfortunately, they don't really explore that "something more." Still, Meester is charming and nails the comedic timing when she's required to, making her pretty much the best part of a bad movie. Score: 6
TALKING: In writing, they always tell you to search for the voice of the character. The problem with Country Strong is there's no real sense of voice with most of these characters. A perfect example is early in the movie when Kelly says to her husband, "don't placate me." Now, call me a snob, but absolutely nothing about this character suggests that she would even know the word "placate," much less use it. But to be fair, the lack of an authentic voice is just one of the many problems at the heart of Country Strong. Sometimes we get glimpses of it in songs, but for the most part, the dialogue is lazy and cliché ridden. Score: 4
SIGHTS: Part of me feels like they just grabbed some stock footage from Friday Night Lights and used it as they pleased, in between shots of honky tonk bars and music venues. It's realistic enough, considering that the story of Country Strong doesn't really lend itself to exotic locations. Still, there was potential for a lot more than what Country Strong showed. Instead, it seemed to play it safe by showing the same sorts of places that somebody who's never visited the damn state would expect to find there. Score: 5
SOUNDS: I'm not much of a country fan. I hate to say it because I feel like every review of this movie makes mention of it, but it's true. I'm down with folk and bluegrass, but as for what's become of country, I just never could get into it. That being said, Country Strong does alright by the genre. It gives a little intro and some groundwork, giving a taste of the different styles of the genre without favoring one too much over another. Some of the songs were country and others worked well within the story, so I have to give them credit for that. Still, sometimes the movie relied too much on music to tell the story rather than the characters or the acting. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: There's an incredibly endearing scene where Kelly shows her true colors when she visits a young child on behalf of the Make a Wish foundation. It's honestly one of the only times I was emotionally engaged throughout the movie.
ENDING: Evidently Shana Feste (screenwriter and director) likes it out in left field, because the end felt rushed and somewhat random. Still, it meant the movie was finally over so I can't complain too much...
QUESTIONS: Why do I care about any of these people? Seriously, were any of them remotely decent human beings? And considering Kelly's got all this security, how is it that nobody can keep a damn bottle out of her hands?
REWATCHABILITY: Kelly's rehab routine seems like a more enjoyable experience than watching this movie again.
OVERALL Country Strong is one of those rare instances of filmmaking where the question "why?" never left my mind throughout the whole movie. Why was this movie made? Why was I supposed to care about these people? Why on God's green earth does Tim McGraw insist on acting?
Sadly, Country Strong is content providing no answers to any of these questions. Judging from the trailer alone, I should have known not to expect much, but even with barely any hopes for the movie, the intense ADD brought on by this movie proved too much. It flits carelessly from alcohol dependency, to countless interweaving love stories, and the horror of fame throughout its 112 minute running time. The problem is that at some point along the way, Feste is asking her audience to care. So why does she treat the material like she does?
Country Strong is one of those films that pulls itself in all directions, never sure of what it wants to be. Is the story about Kelly? Is it about Beau? Is it a love story? After watching the movie, it's clear that Feste may not even have some of the answers to these questions and the movie suffers for it. What results is Country Strong not being able to live up to its title. Country Strong has demonstrated itself to be one of the weakest Hollywood efforts in recent history.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10