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Philly2Philly Movie Review: ‘Country Strong,’ lyrics weak

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal as a wild alcoholic country star is eye'Country Strong' photo courtesy of Screen Gems. opening, but the film not so much.

Surprisingly, Country Strong is not the broke ass version of last year’s Crazy Heart. That’s refreshing news, as this somber drama marches to its own beat, but Jeff Bridges doesn’t need to worry, this still isn’t a very good movie.

I’ll give the film this much credit. Paltrow truly gives it her all, playing against type as a boozing, reckless, damaged adulterous, and that kind of portrayal certainly has appeal. Her performance is appropriately fearless, amidst an underdeveloped character and a hokey script.

It’s a shame that the rest of Country Strong never takes off. Let’s start with the music, which is meant to be the main attraction here. It’s boring. The only two songs (Country Strong, Shake That Thing) that generate any real pop and pizzaz are saved for the last ten minutes of the film (coincidence?.. I think not), and even those register as good, not great. Part of the problem is the performers, who lack credible vocal ability. Paltrow has the best pipes, but still comes off flat (though she hardly sings, believe or not) co-stars Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester are completely sleep inducing, both sans any sense of range. Meester’s limited voice is the worst though, and when someone in the film referred to her as “the next Carrie Underwood,” I almost fell out of my seat in hysterics.

 

Screen Gems has attempted to capture both the young and old markets with Country Strong’s story, thus the casting of heartthrob Hedlund (TRON: Legacy) and teen star Meester (Gossip Girl) Both are tolerable actors, but Meester pulls off a more well rounded character, where as Hedlund’s grumbling one note performance wears on one’s patience by the end credits. Paltrow takes a complete backseat to her co-stars, but is good, using facial expressions to convey half of the performance. She definitely captures the fragility and sorrow of a superstar who has fallen hard.

The most surprising performance, however, is courtesy of Tim McGraw, who plays Paltrow’s estranged husband, a brooding ball of disconnect that can’t seem to forgive his wife for the results of her alcoholism no matter how much he may want to.

Audiences may be blindsided by Country Strong’s “twist” ending. The film refuses to follow a conventional path, and for that it can be commended. The conclusion of the film certainly (**SPOILERS**) possesses a certain sadness, causing the viewers to reflect upon the events prior. It also exemplifies that, in life, the road to recovery is a hard and brutal journey that is complex and sometimes, unsuccessful. The ending and Paltrow’s performance render Country Strong an ok film that will likely garner a following in years to come, but it misses too many notes to be considered a successful effort.

Rating:  * * ½

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Pics courtesy of Screen Gems