Last year at this time, a little film called Crazy Heart was released, much to the praise of critics and moviegoers alike. It followed a country singer battling the throes of addiction and depression. He had hit a new low in his life and we watched him as he struggled to revive his career. If you’ve seen that film, prepare for a strong sense of déjà vu as you watch Country Strong, a picture so similar it can’t help but feel like Crazy Heart-lite with the gender roles reversed. It hits the exact same beats on its journey to the credits, even going so far as to duplicate a key scene, but one pulls them off well and the other does not. Country Strong, despite a likable cast and a handful of decent songs, destroys itself due to a lackluster screenplay and melodrama that would feel out of place in a daytime soap.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays the country singer this time. Her name is Kelly Canter and after a drunken onstage performance, she finds herself stuck in a rehabilitation clinic. When we meet her, she is on her way out the door a month early after her husband and manager, James, played by Tim McGraw, pulls some strings for her release. He is pushing her to straighten up and correct her image, though she is clearly still wrestling some demons. Her extramarital lover, Beau, played by Garrett Hedlund, is a musician himself and agrees to open for her on her comeback tour, but the trip is not going to be an easy one.
I was into Country Strong for its first twenty minutes or so. The songs came like rapid fire and though it sometimes felt more like an extended compilation of country songs than a movie, they were catchy and well written. None were mind-blowing, but they kept my feet tapping and my interest intact. When it did pause for dialogue, it worked. The characters were introduced and their personalities established. The sweetness that oozed in an early scene between Kelly and Beau kept me hoping for something great.
But the longer it went on, the dumber it became. The dialogue got progressively worse and the situations more histrionic. It was as if the screenwriter got bored halfway through and decided to crap anything onto the page just to be done with it. Once it resorts to a song that details everything that has happened thus far in the story, it becomes clear that the film’s ambition has evaporated.
If movies could be diagnosed with diseases, Country Strong would have bipolar disorder. It changes moods so often, it’s sometimes hard to know what you’re supposed to feel. It’s humorous, but solemn; sincere, but manipulative; heartwarming, but cheesy. If it were a person, it would be jumping for joy one minute and jumping off a bridge the next.
What disappoints the most is that it tries to make a statement on the nature of celebrity, but only does so in the barest sense. It barely explores the nitty-gritty of it all, going only so far as to show what those in the spotlight will do to maintain an image without truly delving into the implications behind it. It also, in an admittedly humorous moment, touches on the overt patriotism of country musicians and fans, but again, brushes it to the side in favor of its nonsense script.
Country Strong had its parts aligned. It had a talented cast (with this and The Blind Side, Tim McGraw is proving himself to be quite an actor) some fun songs and a tried-and-true story that proved meaningful when told well, but it just stinks. It’s capped off with an ending that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t wholly make sense up to that point, but if you decide that Country Strong is worth your time, you’ll be fed up with it long before then.
Country Strong receives 1.5/5