Movie Review: Despite Strong Performances, Country Strong Just a Silly Soap Opera

Gwyneth Paltrow's singing soars and the song selection is strong, but the plot just can't pull itself together and stays an overlong, silly melodrama

By Matt Stevens Jan 07, 2011 2:00 AMTags
Gwyneth Paltrow, Country StrongScreen Gems

Review in a Hurry: A silly soap opera for the Nashville set, Country Strong stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a troubled singer who goes on tour after leaving rehab too soon. This overlong melodrama has all the dramatic grace of a wrecked-my-truck, lost-my-girl song—and about as much emotional heft.

The Bigger Picture: I guess Gwynnie and gang wanted to git gussied up and perform them country songs, but dagnabbit, couldn't they have wrangled a smarter script to accompany their purty singin'?

Paltrow plays Grammy-winning darling Kelly Canter, who enters rehab after drunkenly falling off the stage and losing her unborn child. Her husband/manager James (Tim McGraw) removes her from the center a month early to reignite her career. But Kelly is still a fragile creature, which we know because she carries around a box with a baby quail she names Loretta Lynn. Seriously.

The pressure of performing proves overwhelming, as does a mystery "gift" she receives—a bloody doll with a note reading "Baby Killer." So Kelly spirals and drinks and sobs and vomits and punches James and sleeps around. Yee-haw!

She mostly runs into the arms of aspiring songwriter-singer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), an orderly she first romanced in rehab. Her supposed sponsor, scruffy Beau, joins Kelly's comeback tour as an opening act, as does Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a dippy beauty-queen-turned-singer who studies flashcards to get some learnin'. Kelly feels threatened by ambitious upstart Chiles, who steals both her career thunder and Beau's heart.

Unconvincing and overwrought, this mash-up mess echoes other, better films like Coal Miner's Daughter, The Rose and even All About Eve. Country Strong can't pull together its disparate plot strings amid all the guitar plucking and bed hopping.

Fortunately, the songs—some new, some covers—are nicely performed. Paltrow has garnered Gleeful attention lately for her vocal stylings, and despite being saddled with an annoyingly neurotic, hysterical character, she pulls off a satisfying climactic concert appearance. Still, it's Hedlund who really impresses here, with his drawling charm and smoky, expressive singing voice.

Soundtrack strong. Country weak.

The 180—a Second Opinion: A sweet sequence features Kelly singing to a leukemia patient from the Make-a-Wish Foundation...right before things turn soapy again.