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Entries in Musical (7)


Country Strong

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



Musicals are wonderful. From George Stevens’ 1936 classic Swing Time to 2001’s Moulin Rouge, my love for musicals knows no bounds. As I sat down to watch the latest genre effort, Burlesque, I hoped for the best. Basically a mash up of Cabaret and Chicago, Burlesque is snappy, energetic and enthusiastic. It’s a phantasmagoric display of colors and costumes. And it’s also as boring as all get out.

Christina Aguilera plays Ali, an Iowa girl who moves out to Los Angeles with the hopes of hitting it big. On her job search, she comes across a Burlesque club and immediately falls in love with it, wishing for nothing more than to be up on that stage performing for the adoring crowd. However, the club’s owner, Tess, played by Cher, refuses to give her that chance. But when she learns she is about to lose her club to the bank unless able to raise a certain amount of money, she changes her mind and finds that Ali is a force to be reckoned with. She can sing, she can dance, she is beautiful and she becomes the talk of the town.

Burlesque’s plot resembles any other film where a newfound talent brings a business back from the brink of bankruptcy. It’s a story mechanic that has been done to death, but in the right hands it can still work. If it’s believable enough, I can look past it and enjoy the movie for what it is, but there’s nothing in Christina Aguilera that makes me believe she would garner this kind of attention. Aside from the fact that she isn’t a very good actress, which was to be expected, she isn’t particularly fun to watch as a singer either. She has a way of exaggerating her mannerisms to the point where you can’t tell whether she’s really into the song or having some sort of rhythmic seizure.

Still, the songs aren’t bad. It’s everything in between that stings the most. The dialogue, while sometimes humorously blunt, is usually just plain bad and it includes some of the most overly cloying exchanges since the last Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. Perhaps most egregious is its contrivances. As per usual with movies like this, a romance buds between Ali and Jack, played by Cam Gigandet. To get them together, the filmmakers force in one quick scene that shows Ali’s hotel room ransacked. Since she now has nowhere to go, Jack takes her in. In a way, all scenes in every movie set up the next because they are telling a story, but a good movie makes the progression feel natural. Burlesque doesn’t.

Burlesque is a musical only in the sense that it has musical numbers, but it fails to capture the spirit of the best in the genre. Not only are the songs not memorable, some don’t even fit naturally into the movie. It sometimes felt like they had written songs for the film and couldn’t figure out a natural way to include them, so they placed them around at random. The best example comes midway through when Tess, as she is about to leave the club for the night, decides instead to practice a new number, which makes no sense since she is not a performer at her club. I guess the mentality of the filmmakers was, “We have Cher. Why not let her sing?”

Although Aguilera’s performance is wooden and insincere, everyone else is lively and fun. The supporting cast, which includes Kristen Bell, Eric Dane, Alan Cumming and the great Stanley Tucci, provide some much needed withdraw from the sappy main story and stilted, if not nonexistent, chemistry between Aguilera and Gigandet. When focusing on these characters, there is some charm to be found, but in a musical as soulless as Burlesque, that counts for very little.

Burlesque receives 1.5/5

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