Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content, 112 minutes
Music best thing about the weak, soapy drama "Country Strong"
Well at least the music is good, if you're a country music fan that is. The uneven new film "Country Strong" is certainly a likable film, Oscar-winner Gweneth Paltrow will charm your socks off as the lead, and there are a few toe-tapping original country-flavored songs, but everything else is a mess, primarily the stale, melodramatic script, a disjointed tone and a sloppy editing job.
Paltrow is fallen country music star Kelly Canter, whose rough living has landed her rehab and the eyes of a young worker at the rehab named Beau (Garrett Hedlund), a promising singer and songwriter himself. Kelly's controlling husband and manager James (Tim MacGraw) pushes her back on the road too soon, though Beau and another rising country music star, former beauty queen Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) tag along as her opening act. Romantic complications and demons threathen to derail Kelly's comeback and the lives of everyone around her.
"Country Strong" is a forgettable, borderline lousy movie made better by the movie and the Paltrow's homespun charm. This is essentially a female version of last year's superior Jeff Bridges film "Crazy Heart," but without any of the grit, style or sense of emotional connection to the characters. Paltrow tries hard but even her much-talked about singing, well there's not much of it or to it; we only hear her sing a few minutes of the film and what we do hear is a serviceably sweet, thin voice that sounds better as a backup.
While Paltrow is the best thing here, the contrived script and sloppy direction from Shana Feste ("The Greatest") don't do her justice. Her co-stars don't fare much better, but her handsome young co-star Hedlund (interestingly enough, Bridges co-star in another recent mediocre film, "Tron: Legacy") is the most memorable and believeable of the cast as a cowboy trying to make it big (he has a strong voice too). Country music star MacGraw should know a thing about country music but obviously not acting, as he lacks any sort of plausibility as Paltrow's husband and manager. Even worse is "Gossip Girl's" Meester, carrying a fake accent and smile that makes her romantic scenes with Hedlund cringe-worthy.
"Country Strong" doesn't give country music a good name (same for the city of Dallas for that matter) though the country music soundtrack, already a hit, is the only memorable thing to come from the film. The story goes off in too many directions, lacking a core emotional connection and any sense of what these characters are or mean. They sing, they cry, they sleep together, sing some more and drive off into the sunset. Sounds like a twangy country song doesn't? Not a very good one at least, and not a very good movie, either.