Synopsis: Soon after a rising young singer-songwriter (Hedlund) gets involved with a fallen, emotionally unstable country star (Paltrow), the pair embarks on a career resurrection tour helmed by her husband/manager (McGraw) and featuring a beauty-queen-turned-singer (Meester). Between concerts, romantic entanglements and old demons threaten to derail them all.
Release Date: December 22, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Musical, Drama
Encased in the world of country music, Country Strong plays out just like a country song. It is a film full of heartbreak, sacrifice, misguided love, temptations, addiction, and sorrow with brief moments of joy and prosperity. Leading the ensemble cast is Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly Canter. Easily seen on screen as the Shania Twain of the country music world Kelly has fallen from the grace’s of her fans and press alike due to her alcohol addiction and one tragic night in Dallas where her entire world came crashing down, both on the surface and internally. Her most recent stay in rehab has been cut short as her husband (Tim McGraw as James Canter) decides it is time to get Kelly back in the spotlight to prove she is still a Star. Sidled with two opening acts, Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) and Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), Kelly sets out on a small run of tour dates in Texas to re-acclimate herself with the stage as well as show she has recovered in the public eye. But Kelly is not ready, as is made blatantly clear time and again throughout the film as she falls into deep stages of depression, reverts back to her addiction, or commits acts that are distasteful. Regardless of how Kelly may feel, act, or act out, her husband James refuses to see the trouble she is really in as he is blinded by her stardom and the need to get her back where she belongs–on stage. The question lingers throughout, as we see Kelly placated and her feelings ignored, as to just what is the best thing for her at this time.
While Kelly struggles with her comeback the supporting roles of Beau and Chiles take a great amount of the story from her, while providing the only actual positive glimmers of hope in the entire film. While Beau and Kelly have a personal relationship Chiles is an outsider to everyone. Her and Beau become the heart of the film as their budding romance through a shared love of music develops. The film ultimately places the tragic, albeit underdeveloped, story of a country music star against the naive, green tale of two up and coming stars and the choices they face when the possibility of fame comes calling. Country Strong is not the strongest piece of storytelling as it leaves many questions unanswered in terms of the characters but it is solid in depicting the current affairs, emotions, and trials of all of the characters involved. As a viewer you may desire to know more about everyone but at the same time you are satisfied with what you are given. On the surface the film provides a dark look at fame alongside youthful drive and blooming love, that is entertaining if not distressing at times but ultimately pleases the audience with all of its melodramatic force.
Kelly Canter is never given a moment to take a breath, or exhale her deep rooted emotional turmoil from “what happened in Dallas”–something that comes as a great shock when revealed in the film that to divulge it here would be an injustice. This is where Screenwriter, and Director, Shana Feste, lets down her audience, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow. The small amounts of information given about Kelly, and her past, do not provide enough for the viewer to substantiate the tragedy she has become. Much of her story is revealed through what other people say about her; like the local club owner who, when told Kelly will not be performing, remarks that he can tell his bar keep to put the Vodka back on the shelf. Much of her story is revealed through what other people say about her or how they react to her outbursts, bouts of depression, or attacks on her person or others. In a post-rehab moment, while Kelly is preparing to go on stage, Beau remarks on the amount of pills she is taking…”that’s a lot of pills…I got a lot of problems”, Kelly answers. But what are these problems? We know her marriage is imperfect, her guilt substantial over Dallas, and the life of a Star obviously not what she thought it would be, but where is the substance? A great amount of wasted character depth is lost in Kelly Canter and with it the possibility for an outstanding performance by Gwyneth Paltrow.
But at the same time I can see why holding Kelly back from complete emotional breakdown is important, and makes complete sense; as well as keeping her at a distance from the viewer. Kelly is very much controlled by her fame, and in turn her husband James. He tells her what they will be doing, where they will go, and exactly why she has to get back in the spotlight. When Kelly breaks down it is James who talks to her like a child and coaxes her back to an even temperament. When Kelly does break free and lets her emotions and guard down it is with substantial effort of the talent of Gwyneth Paltrow. Just as quickly though her composure returns, anger takes over, and the vulnerable side of Kelly is lost. As a Star she must maintain a vail of secrecy and control. For a woman so out of control and unable to take care of herself it is impossible to actually see what Kelly is like beneath the surface. Honestly, as the film paints her, it is clear she does not know who she is anymore anyways. Feste gives a portrait of a woman who is very one-dimensional for the very reason that it is what has become of her in the world she lives. The dark side of fame has taken Kelly from Kelly, and the result is a character a viewer will never clearly understand, feel empathetic towards, or know clearly. I believe it is important to remember this is not a story about a Star’s life but a story about her life now; the past may influence who she is today but it is what happens now that dictates her future. With that thought in mind the screenplay succeeds, but seeing it in such a light is difficult.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Shana Feste
- Producer(s): Shana Feste
- Screenwriter(s): Gwyneth Paltrow (Kelly Canter)Tim McGraw (James Canter)Garrett Hedlund (Beau Hutton)
- Story: Leighton Meester (Chiles Stanton)
- Cast: Marshall Chapman (Winnie) Carol LittletonJohn Bailey
- Editor(s): David J. Bomba
- Cinematographer: Michael Brock
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA