Country Strong is as much an entertaining ode to country music as it is a serious depiction of alcoholism. It illustrates what can happen to someone thrust back into the spotlight while trying to overcome a serious addiction.
Gwyneth Paltrow gives one of her best performances since her Academy Award winning role in Shakespeare in Love. She plays an alcoholic with a vigor and emotion that allows the viewer to really understand her struggles and experience them with her.
Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a six-time Grammy award winning country star trying to make her big comeback since leaving rehab. She sets out on a three-show tour in Texas organized by her manager-husband James (Tim McGraw), who urges her to leave rehab early despite her tendencies to relapse.
Kelly and James have a very unstable relationship due to her alcohol abuse and a certain infamous Dallas concert that landed her in rehab. Her relationship is further complicated when Beau (Garrett Hedland), her sponsor, who also happens to be her lover, goes on tour with them.
James also welcomes Chiles (Leighton Meester) along on the tour, which does not go over well with his wife. Chiles represents everything Kelly was and just how far she’s fallen from her days on top. The new tour proves too much for the fragile country singer, who is far removed from her glory days; she can’t take the pressure and starts drinking again.
Although Paltrow does a good job, and proves she can carry a decent tune, the real star is Hedland, who also proves he’s got the chops. His deep country voice is reminiscent of Josh Turner, and his boyish good looks aren’t too bad either.
McGraw is the only real-life singer who doesn’t sing at all in the film. He does a decent job as Kelly’s pushy manager-husband who seems torn between his love for the woman he knew and his anger at what she has become.
Although the story carries itself well enough, at times it seems superficial and rushed. One of the major underlying issues in Kelly and James’ marriage is the fact that her fateful concert in Dallas resulted in a miscarriage. This storyline could have been explored in more depth to create a more dramatic and substantive plot. Instead, the film focuses on the songs.
Writer/Director Shana Feste does a decent job of weaving together the conflicts and struggles between each of the main characters. Yet, some of the scenes are a little too contrived and obviously set Kelly up for failure. Why would you leave an alcoholic country singer in her dressing room alone with vodka? Why was there vodka in her dressing room to begin with? These obvious little discrepancies work well for the plot, but don’t quite reflect reality.
The ending also seemed a little out of the blue; it just doesn’t quite offer the right closure to what the rest of the plot promises.
Country Strong is obviously a film for country lovers; it’s pretty much a country concert with a bit of narrative weaved through. If you aren’t a fan of country music or the twangin’ ya’lls that accompany the genre, the story itself will not be impressive enough to pique your interest.