In “Country Strong” Gwyneth Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a troubled country music superstar whose husband (Tim McGraw) pulls her out of rehab to plot her comeback tour. While getting clean she befriends orderly Beau (“Tron: Legacy’s” Garrett Hedlund) who also, conveniently, happens to be a musician. Beau ends up sharing the tour’s opening slot with beauty-queen-turned-singer Chiles Stanton (“Gossip Girl’s” Leighton Meester), and all four end up sharing more than just music and road stories.
The first line of Country Strong’s catchiest song, Give Into Me, is “I’m gonna wear you down,” and sure enough the movie did wear me down in the last thirty minutes. For the first hour or so I thought the film had as much authentic country spirit as a Muzak version of a Hank Williams song but it finally won me over. As a look at the downside of the country music game it pales by comparison to last year’s “Crazy Heart,” but despite a script thick enough with clichés to choke Roy Rogers’s horse and the blandest direction this side of “Hee Haw,” it comes together in its closing minutes.
Much of this is due to its star Garrett Hedlund who rebounds from his bland leading man work in “Tron: Legacy” to deliver a convincing performance as a Townes Van Zandt-style singer-songwriter and love interest. He walks away with the movie, stealing it outright from Gwyneth Paltrow—I know, I know, she did her own singing… so did he—who can’t be down home no matter how hard she tries. She has a couple of moments—a really beautiful scene with a Make-A-Wish child and a drunken backseat conversation with Chiles— but the character is so thinly written there’s very little for her or the audience to hang onto. Leighton Meester fares a bit better, but mostly because her country Barbie character has good chemistry with Hedlund.
At almost two hours “Country Strong” is too long and despite its downbeat subject matter—the flipside of fame, alcoholism and jilted love—isn’t quite authentically hurtin’ enough to qualify as real country.
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