Judge David Johnson is polka strong.
Our review of Country Strong (Blu-Ray), published April 11th, 2011, is also available.
It doesn't matter where you've been as long as you come back strong.
I have nothing against country music. In fact, every once in a while, I can go for a nice little ballad about a pick-up truck. This movie might just make me take the first Stetson I see and feed it through an industrial paper shredder.
Facts of the Case
Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow, The Royal Tenenbaums) was one of the biggest stars on the country scene. That is until she succumbed to a booze-filled meltdown, lost her baby and entered rehab. Now she's ready to go back on tour, with her ambitious manager/husband (Tim McGraw, The Blind Side) at her side and her rehab-sponsor/boy-toy Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund, Friday Night Lights), an up-and-coming-country-star in his own right, tagging along. Rounding out this crew is the lovely Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester, Gossip Girl), a former beauty queen with her eye on country stardom.
Oh the romantic shenanigans these four will get up to!
There is lots of country music and glitz and glamour and peeks into the behind-the-scenes machinations of the music business and impressive hats and facial hair, but what Country Strong lacks ends up being too much for all those affectations to overcome: a single likable main character.
Kelly Canter? A total wreck who also happens to be cheating on her husband.
James Canter? A self-loathing, oblivious a-hole who makes his wife leave rehab too early.
Beau Hutton? Presumably the protagonist of the film since he has the most screen time, but he's a condescending, home-wrecking dick.
Chiles Stanton? While not as flawed as the others, she's airy and fickle and if wasn't for a last-minute change to the original ending, would have been as sympathetic as that mean girl from the Full House episode where DJ is made fun of because she's wearing the same outfit as the teacher's aide.
Alas, we're saddled with all four of these stiffs for the duration, two hours worth of strained melodrama and crocodile tears, set to a soundtrack that flips from spunky to dirgeful and capped with a cheap-shot emotional ending, which, strangely enough, elicited zero emotional response.
Again, I'm not a country hater, but the calculus here is simple: if you've got a film that is solely about the characteristics and interactions of four people, and not one of them is a) relatable, or b) admirable, what's the point? When a few molecules of redemption eventually creep into their personas, it's too late. I had lost all desire to care.
Which is a shame because I'd be genuinely interested in a movie that featured an in-depth look at the country music scene. It's a hugely popular subset of American pop culture and while Country Strong showed some glimpses, the overreliance on the characters' arcs diluted it.
The DVD: 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital (English, French) and the (downer) original ending, deleted scenes and three music performances featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Sara Evans. I'll give her this: Paltrow has some pipes.
A tepid, clichéd character drama, Country Strong did nothing to rope me in.
Guilty. Put this out to pasture.
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Scales of Justice
• Alternate Ending
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