After seeing a preview for Country Strong starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw, it looked like it could be a great film. Written and directed by Shana Feste, the film follows the post-rehab portion of the career of fictional country superstar Kelly Canter (Paltrow), her relationship with husband/manager James Canter (McGraw), and the two up-and-coming opening singers Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester).
James has his wife released from rehab a month early than scheduled to bring her back on the road to stardom before her downfall nearly a year before. He arranges for a new country singer to be her opening act, a young, beautiful, former beauty queen who has aspirations of being a superstar but Kelly insists on Beau being the opening act.
After opening night in Dallas fails Kelly, she stumbles back into alcoholism as we watch her struggle with her own health and the troubled relationship she has with both her husband and with Beau.
I think Gwyneth plays her role very well, however, I don’t think she was an appropriate fit for this movie. As a country singer, she plays her part convincingly and there’s definitely effort put into living the part but as a country superstar, she doesn’t quite have the charisma that an alcoholic, long-term-careered, country strong woman would have. And her voice isn’t what you’d expect from someone with that sort of star power. In this scenario, you expect someone who not only can act the part but also look like the part. Worn down, tired, determined but not able to give up the bottle.
Leighton Meester played the role of interested starlet but as a determined country singer, she is not. I wasn’t quite sure if she was meant to be a Barbie-like country-wannabe or actually someone who lived and breathed country that wanted to “make it” but she didn’t seem like the latter. Maybe that was the point. To show the desire James Canter had to make a star out of someone who clearly didn’t have it.
What could have, and should have, been a great movie was tarnished by the clichéd, uninspired storyline. The film itself was choppy with little time to grasp one event from the other and not enough focus on the main idea. Sure, in the end it was a love, or loveless, story but the emphasis placed on Beau and Chiles seemed to take away from what should have been a fictional biography on Kelly Canter. By the end of the film, you know you should feel more for her and you want to, because of her attempt to draw you in, but the camera didn’t let you share enough time with her to dig deep and fall when she fell.