Judge Brett Cullum warns you're gonna need a lot more strength than you can get from country to get through this one.
Our review of Country Strong, published April 5th, 2011, is also available.
Chiles Stanton: "How do I look?"
There are so many wrong things about Country Strong that it's almost impossible to know where to start. Seeing Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal) pretend to be a country singer next to Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester is painful. Even worse, we have real music superstar Tim McGraw standing next to them, and he never sings a note. The film is basically a reimagining of A Star is Born done with a modern country soundtrack, and nobody in their right mind has been asking for that. But if you have enough fortitude to sit through it, here's the Blu-Ray.
Facts of the Case
Paltrow plays a recovering country star named Kelly Canter who has substance abuse issues and is yanked prematurely out of rehab to do a big tour. Last time she was on the concert circuit she stumbled off the stage and lost her baby. Her husband (Tim McGraw, The Blind Side) is her manager, and he seems hellbent on getting her back on track to bring in the big bucks, no matter how little she has healed. To help out, he hires Kelly's sponsor, a young singer named Beau (Garrett Hedlund, Tron: Legacy) to be her opening act. And just to complicate things even more, they sign on Beau's ex-girlfriend Chiles Stanton (Meester) to also share the bill. She's a beauty queen who thinks she can make it big as a country singer. So can poor Kelly keep her sobriety long enough to get through one show? Can Chiles Stanton sleep with everybody on the tour? Can the audience buy one scene of this melodrama as authentic.
Had this movie starred Faith Hill and Miley Cyrus I might be singing a different tune altogether. It's the kind of flick that could use real country stars to make it more fun, but the director Shana Feste (The Greatest) seems set on working with people who really have to act to make the performances work. She states in the extras that she went with Paltrow because it was an unexpected move, but Paltrow just can't sell herself as a country star. We see her as who she has always been, a movie star born into this world with a silver spoon falling out of her mouth. Nothing about her reads country, even though she is a fine enough actress in any other role she has ever played. This one is just not right for her, and it doesn't play to any of her strengths outside of looking good in sparkly dresses.
Unfortunately nobody could have saved the lead role no matter who was cast, because the material is not there for her or anyone around her. The character of Kelly Canter is not all that likable, and she never does anything to make us root for a comeback. She acts childish, cheats on her husband without remorse, can't stay sober for more than fifteen minutes, and never makes it through more than one song before running off the stage in a blur of alcohol and pills. Her husband cheats on her, gives her pills, and seems to not care much about her beyond the cash he can make. Then her sponsor Beau is found in bars frequently, will sleep with anything, and can't seem to figure out that he needs to stop apologizing for being a talented singer. And then there is the young starlet who only cares about looking good and sleeping with any man who will advance her career. I sat through the movie without anybody to cheer for.
Maybe the music performances could have helped, but they seem rather flat and not all that genuine either. Country music is great stuff, and I am a pretty informed fan, having been a radio deejay for a station in Memphis, Tennessee. I hung out in Nashville enough to know what makes country work, and it seems these people don't. None of the songs feel heartfelt, and the performances are glitzy but lack any passion. I was amazed that in the film Tim McGraw never sang a song even though he was the one cast member who actually has experience doing this for a living. Seems like a waste to have stars who have never been on stage performing while the real musician just has to act through the whole thing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Blu-ray does look good. The picture is crisp and clean with very accurate flesh tones and a nice control with the palette. Most of the scenes are gray and dark, weather to match the mood of the story. It all looks just fine and has the right black levels and contrast. Sound is great too with a nice robust five channel mix that makes everything pop well.
Extras on the Blu-Ray include three exclusive featurettes that were not on the DVD. They show the behind the scenes details nicely including looks at the cast, the clothes, and how the songs were written. Carried over from the DVD edition we get deleted scenes, a slightly different ending, extended performance of "Shake that Thing," and two music videos featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Sara Evans. The packaging here is just fine.
Country Strong is a wrong-headed project that seems to think audiences want to see Gwyneth Paltrow sing and Tim McGraw act. It's a backwards thinking throwback to A Star is Born where we get a gender reversal and country music to make it seem different. It doesn't work on any level, other than that it looks like it was filmed well, and the Blu-ray technically looks strong enough to live up to the title.
Guilty of being everything but strong.
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