Film Reviews

COUNTRY STRONG

By • Jan 12th, 2011 •

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The world of Pandora was more believable than this whitewash.

Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a country western superstar with a saintly, yet cuckolded enabler husband, James (Tim McGraw) and a young, hot boyfriend/babysitter Beau (Garrett Hedlund).

Everyone worships Kelly. James, her manager, keeps telling her how much he loves her – usually after she has spent the night with Beau. In every scene, James has tears in his eyes.

Kelly has left rehab early and her comeback tour has been orchestrated by crybaby James. Kelly wants her hot jump-off Beau to open for her but James wants fresh-faced, angelic Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) to open. She is the next big thing. To please Kelly, both Beau and Chiles go on Kelly’s comeback tour.

Clearly, writer and director Shana Feste did not do any research. Who better to advise her but superstar Tim McGraw? McGraw has had eleven consecutive albums debut at Number One on the Billboard albums charts. Among his awards, McGraw has won 3 Grammys, and 14 Academy of Country Music Awards. In 1996, McGraw headlined the most successful country tour of that year, The Spontaneous Combustion Tour, with Faith Hill as his supporting act. Faith Hill broke off her engagement to her producer Scott Hendricks so that she and Tim “could start dating each other”; they married later that year. That tour should have been emotional grist for COUNTRY STRONG.

Instead of showing us the crisis that plunged Kelly into a drug and alcoholic abyss, we just hear about it. Feste leaves the drama off-screen and just teases us with everybody whispering about what happened to Kelly that led to her stint in rehab. What screenwriting course did Feste take?

Regardless of his weepy, wimpy role, Feste adoringly stages McGraw. He looks damn sexy and sensitive. James is the man we all want at our side when we are having a boozy, slutty temper tantrum. But where was James’s big scene when he goes off on Kelly, goes medieval, and then signs Chiles to an exclusive contract? Instead, he is chaste and obliging. He stands around looking at Kelly like a fool.

Meanwhile, Kelly is not jealous of Chiles’s singing talent, but her friendship with James. She demands Beau only sleep with her while on the tour. He is forbidden to sleep with the help.

Feste also favors Hedlund, who, even with bad fake teeth, comes across as a big, beautiful man dripping with sex appeal. He is also a much better actor than recently showcased in TRON: THE LEGACY. That is the problem with CGI movies with huge budgets. The actors are furniture to be moved around to compliment the special effects. Meester annoyed me.

The clothes were terrible. I understand that Chiles was supposed to be a hayseed, but she is dressed like an Amish child. They shopped for Hedlund’s wardrobe at a Good Will.

Who was that older lady, with the gray hair and badge, always walking with Kelly? She was the most interesting, non-verbal character in the film.

Now on to the star, Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow has been away from films for too long and it showed. She embarrasses herself with movie star overacting. There is not one moment when I believed her. This is one of those cases where I want the actor to actually take drugs, drink, and have sex with the extras. This reminds me of the famous tale from MARATHON MAN:

A story circulated for a long time that Dustin Hoffman, being a “method actor”, stayed up all night to play his character who has stayed up all night. Arriving on the set, Laurence Olivier asked him why he looked the way he did. Hoffman told him, to which Olivier replied, “Why not try acting, dear boy? It’s much easier.”

If McGraw refused to use COUNTRY STRONG to bring reality to the story (too close to his own romance with Hill?), why didn’t screenwriter Feste just google Whitney Houston’s Australian tour for inspiration?

Whitney Houston’s 2010 Australian comeback came under a blazing fire after fans criticized the opening night of her Australian tour claiming the singer sounded ‘croaky and appeared ‘disorientated’. Houston struggled through the opening night and was left breathless and exhausted after just two songs at her show at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.

And even more bizarrely, the 46-year-old took a 20-minute break to catch her breath mid-way through the show. After half a dozen songs she left the stage for twenty minutes to take a break, bringing on her brother, Gary Houston, to sing in her absence.

One fan interviewed on Australian TV after the show said: ‘It was a disgrace. ‘She can’t sing. She didn’t sing one song properly. Another fan said: ‘She couldn’t entertain a dead rat, to be honest.’

Some fans said they would be demanding their money back. An Australian music reviewer wrote: “The multi-award-winning singer appeared disoriented and failed to properly name some of her backing band as she introduced them to the audience. But the final act faltered at the finale when she croaked her way through I Will Always Love You, pausing to get a drink and towel herself down just as she was about to hit the song’s epic high note, which she turned into a soft coo.”

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