I love campy garbage -- particularly themed campy garbage -- so naturally after I was so satisfied by the amazing Burlesque, I hesitantly anticipated that Country Strong would be another new entry in the annals of so-bad-it's-good-classics. But, unfortunately, it's just kind of blandly bad, and unforgivably little fun. Shockingly, though? It's not bad because of Gwyneth Paltrow -- she's actually pretty good in it! Life's full of little surprises, isn't it?
Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, country music superstar and shamed alcoholic, who once drank so much she fell off a Dallas stage and miscarried all over the place. Now, she's being busted out of rehab far too early and forced on a comeback tour by her tough love husband and manager, played by dreamboat and national treasure Tim McGraw. But the plot thickens! Since checking into rehab a couple weeks before the movie takes place, she has fallen in love with one of the facility's orderlies, who also just happens to be a fairly well-known up and coming country artist named Beau (of course his name is Beau, though I'd have also accepted Hank, Bucky, Cletus or Scooter). Tim McGraw doesn't like it, but he placates her by letting Beau open for her on the tour. He also gets her back by inviting Beau's nemesis, beauty queen Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), on the ticket as well, despite the fact that she's kind of terrible at performing and has panic attacks like every day. (But don't worry about Chiles -- she turns into a brilliant songwriter halfway through the movie, which was unbelievably good luck for her!)
So the tour starts and then the movie spends the rest of its time just kind of waffling back and forth between all these love triangles until it finds a clichéd way to resolve them. Kelly thinks Tim McGraw is sleeping with Chiles; Beau doesn't like that Kelly might be sleeping with her husband; Beau starts sleeping with Chiles, which actually doesn't complicate things as much as you'd expect; Kelly, attention and love-starved addict that she is, relapses and sleeps with everyone in the world, but then she puts on a pretty good show at the end and feels like she's redeemed herself enough to move on. I'll just leave it at that to avoid spoilers, in case you care about experiencing this movie really surprising you with all its got. (It doesn't got a lot, but still.)
It would have been a better movie without Beau's character entirely, instead focusing on the All About Eve story the trailers made it out to be, with Chiles gunning for Kelly's career, but the movie's still got a few fundamental problems that even Blair Waldorf releasing a twanged fury unto Gwyneth Paltrow wouldn't cover. Like, for example, how Gwyneth Paltrow isn't that great a singer. Say what you want about country music, but Taylor Swift aside, the vast majority of the women who become superstars of that genre are powerful vocalists. Paltrow's acting is good, but she sang all her own songs in this movie, and she's pretty glaringly passable as a singer, which took me out of the story a bunch of times.
Also, Leighton Meester's costumes were disgusting, and it's demoralizing to see Blair Waldorf look that bad.
Also also, this thing is almost two hours long, and it's really only got about 20 minutes of compelling content stretched out over those near two hours -- one instance of the inane filler involves Gwyneth Paltrow discussing her "brand new Brazilian bikini wax" that almost killed me with barfs -- and it does that thing where the movie keeps pretending it's over, only to fade open on yet another scene, followed by, like, three denouements? Is not knowing how to quit when you're behind a "country" characteristic or something? If so, I'd be willing to forgive it, had everyone had sparklier outfits, of course.
Did you see Country Strong? Tell us what you thought in the comments, then see our list of the greatest fictional music acts ever!
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