Country Strong (2011)

Written & Directed by Shana Feste

Country music, at least in my life, is a love or hate thing, which I never understood because I neither love it nor hate it myself. I in fact do like it, though it is not my favorite genre of music, and I find the reason I do like it is its ability to tell a story. There are many forms of music and each tells a story, but when I say story when referring to country music, I mean there is a narrative to follow, it is a personal form of music. Or at least that is what I find the best country music does. So how ironic that I would come into this film, a movie about country music, and, while I loved the music, I had issue with the storytelling. Huh.

The story itself is not the problem, in fact it is chock full of great drama. We have Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) who, after a tragedy and an embarrassment on tour, finds herself in rehab. Her husband/manager James (Tim McGraw) decides to pull her out a month early to return to touring, much to the dismay of lowly rehab worker Beau (Garrett Hedlund), who moonlights as a singer/songwriter and soon joins Kelly and James on tour. Also on the tour is up and coming beauty queen singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) to add to the dynamic of this crazy tour. As Kelly’s need to hit the bottle, fed by the tumultuous marriage and love…square, the hopes of Kelly’s comeback seems less and less likely.

For a story that is supposedly about Kelly & James Canter, it sure seems to be about Beau & Chiles, which is a good thing. Their story is much more interesting, or at least is presented as such. The waning, troubled country star chord has been strummed so many times that at this point it seems old, and there is nothing about Kelly that separates her story from what we have seen before. But Beau and Chiles stories are interesting and the chemistry, and in fact the acting, of these two is what keeps the proceedings worthwhile.

The best part about the whole film, however, was the music, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good is that it makes the film that much more intriguing and appealing, but the bad is that director Shana Feste seems to use it almost as a crutch. Instead of earning the emotional moments in the film with smart moves with her camera, dialogue, or actors, Feste defaults to the music when she wants to say something, which is the beauty of music, but I tuned in for a film not an album. The film had the right intentions behind it, the right players on screen, but the flow and storytelling held this back and made it basic melodrama. I do look forward to seeing what Hedlund and Meester have to offer in the future. Maybe having Tobey Maguire be a producer was the wrong decision.

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