Review by Jack Foley
MELODRAMATIC country and western saga Country Strong plays like a bad cover version of countless other musical dramas.
Written and directed by Shana Feste, the film is a downbeat tale of fame, addiction and depression that only really comes alive during its songs, which is a shame given that there are a number of fine acting and singing performances thrown into the mix.
Gwyneth Paltrow heads the cast as troubled country star Kelly Canter, who hits the road in a bid to repair the damage caused by her most recent drink-induced meltdown (which cost the life of her unborn child) while juggling feelings for both her long-suffering husband and manager (played by real-life country legend Tim McGraw) and the up-and-coming singer-songwriter (Garrett Hedlund) who has taken a shine to her while in rehab.
The ensuing two hours follow a path familiar to anyone acquainted with movies like Walk The Line, A Star Is Born and Nashville without ever really grabbing you in the same way.
As both writer and director, Feste must shoulder most of the blame given that her screenplay consistently fails to deliver characters that are worth rooting for.
Rather, their motivations appear consistently conflicted, their actions often don’t make sense and they’re all too frequently allowed to wallow in their unfolding tragedies.
Her direction, too, lacks much spark during the off-stage sequences, only really coming alive during the concerts that mark the film’s strongest point. But even then, an overcooked and overly contrived ending leaves you feeling manipulated and blue.
Such failures also negate the good work put in by most of the cast, with Paltrow once more proving more than capable of singing and acting (following good work in Duets, Infamous and now Glee), yet being prevented from really fleshing out her character by virtue of her continually troubled mental state. We’ve seen her do this type of torment one too many times before.
The presence of McGraw, meanwhile, lends the film a deceptive credibility given that he’s never called upon to sing, despite clocking in some heart-wrenching scenes as Kelly’s husband.
If anything, it’s Hedlund who emerges with most credit, delivering the type of performance that goes some way to compensating for his wooden acting in Tron: Legacy and which taps into some genuine charisma and talent (both singing and acting).
His character is, arguably, the film’s most likeable, although audiences may still struggle to understand some of his motivations and his slavish devotion to Kelly.
Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester also puts in some good work as another emerging singer who joins the comeback trail but is again constrained by the limiting contrivances of Feste’s script.
Country Strong is therefore an over-familiar, over-long and ultimately forgettable affair that plays badly out of tune.
Running time: 117mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: July 18, 2011