Review: Country Strong is strained corn
A modern-day melodrama set in the world of country music, â€śCountry Strongâ€ť stars Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly Cantor, a singing superstar trying to recover from a personal and professional setback.
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Real-life country singer Tim McGraw plays her manager-husband, James, anxious to get his songbird aloft again after alcoholism grounded her career.
Along for the ride as opening acts on Kellyâ€™s big-stakes comeback tour are two musical greenhorns, beauty queen Chiles (Leighton Meister from TVâ€™s â€śGossip Girlâ€ť) and cowboy-hatted hunk Beau (Garret Hedlund, fresh from â€śTronâ€ť).
Beau has been bedding Kelly on the sly, and Kellyâ€™s pretty sure cutie-pie Chiles has her sights on James. How will this romantic rectangle shake out once the tour bus hits the highway? Will Kelly reclaim her country crown? Or will the young â€ścountry Barbieâ€ť upstage her---and take her man, to boot?
The good news: Paltrow, Meister and Hedlund really can sing. And sing they do, digging in convincingly to the sturdy soundtrack of catchy original songs penned by some of Nashvilleâ€™s top tunesmiths.
But the rest of â€śCountry Strongâ€ť is an all-over-the place mess of show-business clichĂ©s, clunky character stereotypes and a disjointed storyline that makes it impossible to connect all the scattered, implausible dots.
Paltrowâ€™s character has two basic settings---drunk and depressed---but the actress does what she can with such a limited, morose palette.
Weâ€™re told that sheâ€™s a â€śsix-time Grammy winner,â€ť but nothing we see or hear supports why we should believe it. Likewise, when a newspaper raves that newcomer Chiles is â€śthe new Carrie Underwood,â€ť it confounds everything weâ€™ve come to know about her characterâ€™s debilitating lack of onstage confidence and charisma.
Country fans, especially those whose knowledge of the format goes deeper than the weekâ€™s Top 40 countdown, will enjoy seeing some familiar faces in the mix, including singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale and steel guitarist Chris Scruggs (Earlâ€™s grandson) as musicians in Beauâ€™s band, Ed Bruce as a scruffy nightclub owner, and Lari White, who had her moment in the musical spotlight in the 1990s, as a makeup artist.
At one point, Kelly vows to overcome the mess sheâ€™s made. â€śIâ€™m stronger than this!â€ť she says. (Cue the title track.)
But alas, despite her rally for the big concert finale, sheâ€™s not---and neither is the movie.
This cinema corn falls far short of the inspiring story of triumph and tragedy it wants viewers to buy. Too much about â€śCountry Strongâ€ť is simply too weak and wobbly to hit the high dramatic notes to which it aspires.