You got your vanity project in my half-assed country music flick. Hey! You got your half-assed country music flick in my vanity project!

Much like the creation of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, the world has been introduced to Shana Feste’s Country Strong. Gwyneth Paltrow plays recovering alcoholic country singer Kelly Canter who’s in rehab following a nasty DUI in Texas. Canter is soon handed off to her sponsor Beau Hutton who forgoes any sense of personal responsibility and begins to shoe-horn himself into every aspect of her life. Kelly’s husband James tries his best to work with Kelly and Beau, but he’s more concerned with getting his wife/client back onstage. Tim McGraw seems a little off in the role of James, which is very odd since the guy’s been acting more than performing for the last five years.

Enter Leighton Meestor as Chiles Stanton and everyone’s world is rocked. She’s a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus and America too. After covering Canter’s drunken ass, Chiles’ star power begins to skyrocket. Meester’s performance is focused and manages to balance sweet with a sharp edge. However, she feels largely unneeded for a third of the film. That begins my major problem with Country Strong.  What does this film want to be? At first glance, it’s a Paltrow star vehicle designed to be a female answer to Crazy Heart. Then, you’ve got the love triangle between Paltrow, McGraw and Garrett Hedlund. The threat of anyone leaving or being hurt isn’t that strong, but it seems to exist to give slack-jawed viewers something they can grasp.

Nevermind, the dimestore approach to All About Eve style backstage dramatics that are employed between Paltrow and Meester. When Meester isn’t onstage performing or causing Paltrow to step up her game, she is non-existent. Some might ask if Feste had the foresight to get Tim McGraw to sing, so that he can cover up some of the film’s failings. Nope, no one bothered to get the one established singer to belt out a few tunes. What they do allow McGraw to do is twirl his moustache and manipulate his wife into an exhaustive competition with Chiles. It all boils down to the situation pushing past James and Kelly, as Canter’s handlers give her latest song to Chiles.

Crushed by reality, Canter retreats to a bathroom stall where we hit the point in the film where I gave up all hope. I envoke the term film grammar in a large amount of my reviews. As we enter into an age, where the VHS generation turns into the Youtube generation, I feel that the concept is being lost. D.W. Griffith laid out the groundwork for future generations to understand how the cinematic art is similar to basic language diagnostics. The words, sentences and punctuation of the written page have a proper foothold in the world of cinema. However, this concrete manner of creating fiction has been lost due to years of artistic interpretation. The problem with such interpretation is that it allows for a blanket approach to cinema from any idiot that grabs a camera. While you might want to support artistic endeavors, the resulting work is null and void if it results in a terrible film.

When Feste shows that Kelly Canter is crumbling due to Chiles’ rise, we see that Kelly has begun to take care of a baby bird. Hmmm? What’s going on with that? Well, earlier in the film…great care is taken to let the audience know that Kelly had a miscarriage due to a drunken stumble. Yeah, people. That’s where we are with this film. A drunken Paltrow carrying around a bird like a giant ball and chain engraved with the words TERRIBLE MOVIE. Feste doesn’t trust her skill, much less the audience to grow with the characters. The director tells the audience in broad strokes everything that she can’t motivate the actors to portray. If you’re still sticking with me, you’ve probably had a chuckle by now. Good. Enjoy that sense of fun, as you will not find anything to match it in Country Strong.

Some might ask about Paltrow and the others’ singing performances. If you really care, then buy the soundtrack. While everybody that performs easily matches up to the work in 2009’s Crazy Heart, you don’t base your love of a film on the soundtrack alone. If that were the case, Purple Rain would’ve been a bigger hit. What we have here is a ham-fisted January dump. Sure, the studio did fiddle with the release dates to get into Oscar contention for this year. However, this film might only get a pity Best Song nomination at best. The major acclaim is out of reach and the wider audience has yet to accept the film. But, I will say this before I go. The maudlin dramatics of this motion picture are ripe for parody/satire/drunken viewing. College audiences will discover this film on Home Video and continue to lambast it far worse than anything I could say here. Let’s just hope that no one create a drinking game for it. I’m still reeling from my last bout of drinking through Salt.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars