"Country Strong" is too weak

Jan. 10, 2011, 8:10 a.m. | By Valerie Hu | 12 years, 2 months ago

A predictable plot is cliché-ridden

Place Gwyneth Paltrow, who recently sang on an episode of "Glee," with country superstar Tim McGraw into a country drama. What could go wrong? Director Shana Feste takes a stab at the already-before-seen story of a fallen country singer trying to climb her way back to superstardom. Though the cast provides as much depth to their characters as possible, the unexciting plot and lack of character development makes "Country Strong" a disappointment.

Inspired by pop star Britney Spears' spiral downward, "Country Strong" tells the tragic story of washed-up country singer Kelly Canter (Paltrow) who tries to rebuild her career after being arrested for drunken behavior at a Dallas concert months earlier. After leaving rehab, Kelly embarks on a tour with her sponsor and aspiring singer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund). Kelly's husband and manager, James Canter (McGraw), also accompanies her. Beauty-queen-turned-singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), is another addition to the pack, competing against Beau as Kelly's opening act. As she prepares for her monumental comeback performance in Dallas, Kelly struggles with alcoholism, lust and other distractions that threaten the success of her return to country music.

The entire story is laid out for the audience from the beginning of the movie, and the film becomes predictable early on. There is slow buildup to the climax, which is not worth waiting for. Even though Feste attempts to add drama with one sudden turn of events, the scene's placement in the movie made no sense with the rest of the plot. Feste only wants to solicit a sympathetic reaction out of the audience.

The plot focuses on the characters' romantic relationships and Kelly's career, but the characters' sexual and emotional tensions overshadow the rest of the story. Similarly to a soap opera, relationships in the movie change fast, but the entire backstory is not always clear. Camera shots change quickly to capture the formation of new relationships, often before audiences have time to interpret and react to what is going on. The changes are not clearly explained in the screenplay, which makes the transitions seem choppy and the new scenes seem like interruptions to the overall plot.

Paltrow, Hedlund and Meester put on their best southern accents and try to do their characters justice. Still, the lack of character development causes the cast's acting to go to waste. Though the main character appears to be Kelly, Paltrow's character shows little growth throughout the story. Kelly's repeated crying, drinking and sexual activity might earn her sympathy at first, but as the movie continues, audiences will quickly grow tired of her sob story.

Instead, the supporting characters will capture the most attention. Beau shows the most development as he matures from an immature opening act to a wiser, caring man. Furthermore, Meester provides refreshing comic relief as a naïve beauty queen trying to make a name for herself in the music business.

The music was passable but not gripping enough to compensate for the unexciting plot. Hedlund was the best cast singer in the movie. His charming deep vocals complemented Meester's sweet voice in the duet, "Give In To Me," one of the tracks that will stand out most to audiences. Paltrow's soft vocals are sufficient for the country genre, but are not particularly impressive. The best parts of the movie are its few catchy tunes; do not expect anything too dramatic or emotionally moving.

Aside from a few sentimental and humorous moments, the movie is an incoherent letdown. Feste makes an effort to strike audiences emotionally, but a lack of character development causes "Country Strong" to fall short as another drama with an unoriginal storyline. Save this movie for a night in with your Blu-ray player and a bowl of popcorn.

"Country Strong" is rated PG-13 for alcohol abuse and some sexual content. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Valerie Hu. Valerie Hu loves pasta, beaches and laughing with friends. She draws inspiration from traveling, whether she is in Paris or in Disney World. Like the blog, she appreciates the little things in life. She aspires to one day receive as many candy canes as Glen … More »

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