A wise man might have realized that any picture featuring Leighton Meester would undoubtedly be so cram-packed with drama that it could make People Magazine feel dirty. I mean for God sakes, that’s Blake from Gossip Girl. Ironically though, Meester’s character Chiles Stanton turns out to be Country Strong‘s least controversial character. Kelly Canter however, played by Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow is a whole different ballgame. Packing baggage that has it’s own luggage, Canter runs the gambit of rehab, infidelity, falling off the wagon, over-dosage and the resurgence of a flickering career. Between all of that Paltrow also finds time to sing.
Needless to say, Canter is a hot mess. The story centers around the six time Grammy winner’s fall from fame. Roughly a year previous to the plot of the story, Canter crawled into the bottle and stumbled off the ten foot Dallas stage. Rushed to the hospital, she and husband/manager James Canter (Tim McGraw) discovered that they were five and one-half months preggers. With a 1.9 blood alcohol count little could be done for the child to be, which was eventually lost.
We join the cast of the movie on the day Kelly Canter is leaving rehab. She and Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) are songwriting when her husband arrives. It is fairly obvious from the start that she and Hutton have more than a professional relationship going on. She begs McGraw to take Hutton on tour with her. He refuses at first, choosing instead to take Stanton, however, due to Stanton’s stage presence, which Hutton describes as “more scared than a church mouse” McGraw recants. Hutton’s role on the tour turns out to henge more on supporting Canter, due to her husband’s inability to be both affectionate and management. Hutton becomes Canter’s shoulder throughout the tour, which causes a love triangle from hell. Canter adores Hutton, while also longing for her husband to remember the way she was before she stumbled. Hutton seemingly loves Canter as well, protecting her from both herself and her problems. Yet, meanwhile, Hutton and Stanton establish feeling for each other.
Still with me after all of that?
This soap opera takes place on the Kelly Encore tour, which only consists of three dates. Houston, ends with a drunken Canter unable to sing and babbling senselessly to the crowd. In Austin, management smooths this over, claiming food poisoning. However, this scapegoat is short lived, as Canter again finds herself three sheets to the wind, dancing on the bar at Miss Kitty’s. Hutton collects Canter, returning her to the venue. Unable to play, the show goes on without it’s star. I’m not going to blurt out the ending to you, but I will say that it almost seemed poetic, ending in the city where the bulk of her problems began.
The film does a great job of capturing the overwhelming nature in which a life of publicity can suck a person dry. It manages to effectively highlight the road wear the Canters had endured. Transforming from a loving, cohesively joined couple, resentment and sadness seemed to wedge Kelly and James apart. His inability to forgive his wife for her problems kept her at a distance, while that distance furthered her inability to stabilize her life. Eventually, this circle and the lack of success in breaking it would destroy both of them.
Paltrow delivers an extremely remarkable performance in her first leading role since leaving film to raise a family. This is her film beginning to end. Hedlund and Meester do a fantastic job supporting Paltrow and should logically be rewarded with money roles of their own. I personally felt McGraw to be a little dry in comparison to the remainder of the cast, however with acting being his secondary career, this is to be expected.
I must confess that I walked into the theater expecting to be disappointed by Country Strong. I had little doubt I would be reviewing the typical, Pure Country type of film filled with cliches and broken down dodge trucks. Instead I ended up with a fairly well written and insightful character piece about the effects of pop culture on it’s main players. This movie is worth a watch if you can go into it open minded and get past the southern drawl.
I give Country Strong 4 Grammys out of 5