There’s a line in Country Strong where Gwyneth Paltrow takes a bunch of pills. One character says, “That’s a lot of pills” and she replies, “I have a lot of problems.” So does this movie. Perhaps you need to be a country music fan to fully understand it. This soap opera of tortured souls plays just like a country tune.
On the plus side, the acting is good. The story, not so much. And those rumors that Gwyneth can sing? She really can! But this isn’t just her movie. She shares the screen with Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund (just off the grid of Tron: Legacy) and Leighton Meester. Ironically, the only one who doesn’t sing at all is McGraw.
Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a much-loved country star with a troubled past. The film opens with her in rehab for alcohol addiction. It is there where that she is befriended (sometimes with benefits) by Beau Hutton (Hedlund) a janitor or orderly at the center by day, a local singer by night. Kelly’s husband, James (McGraw) gets her released a month early and pushes her back on the road when she is clearly not ready. Beau is brought along to help Kelly keep her feet grounded. Chiles Stanton (Meester) is also along for the ride as possibly the “next big thing” and opening act. Now it gets complicated. Chiles has a crush on Garrett who is stuck on Kelly who is in a torn marriage with James who is also Chiles’ manager.
As the tour goes on, Kelly struggles to stay sober and find love. She loves her husband, but craves the attention of crowd. The film exposes these trials and questions if you can have both. It is full of cliches and just when you think you know how it’s going to end, they pull the old switcharoo. Chiles is a pretty songbird, but her character seems too plastic to be real. You can’t tell if she is flirting with her James or simply innocent. At the same time, it isn’t clear if James has honest intentions for her. The story seems to defy logic too. At one point, Kelly backslides and has to be picked up from a bar. She’s a mess. After she is safely home, the rescuer goes out for drink. One moment Kelly is a wreck, the next, she’s “country strong.” And on it goes.
The message of the film is telling us to fight for love, but it doesn’t ring true. In the end, it leaves you wanting more. Hollywood has told this same story before and better with Coal Miner’s Daughter and Walk the Line, but maybe those stories are better because they are true.