What’s wrong with Country Strong? Certainly not the musical numbers or the acting by Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester. But the unrealistic behavior of the characters and their unclear motivation make it very hard to suspend disbelief while watching this melodrama about a country megastar on a downward spiral. Misconceptions concerning show biz, rehab and addiction abound. Although the film manages to show how hard it is for an alcoholic to kick the booze habit, especially a famous person faced with guilt and the pressure of making a comeback, many of the messages delivered here do not ring true to me.
When the movie opens, Kelly Canter (Paltrow) is in rehab after a humiliating concert performance and the loss of a baby. She’s eligible for another month of treatment, but her husband James (McGraw) has decided to take her out of rehab early because she’s so much better -- and, of course, because he has arranged for a lucrative tour. This surprises and angers Beau (Hedlund), a counselor at the treatment center who’s been receiving much more than help with his own country music goals from Kelly. James doesn’t like Beau, but he agrees to take him along on the tour as one of the opening performers if he agrees to help keep Kelly from drinking. Why does hubby then provide Kelly with pills before a performance? If he was concerned about her addiction, he should be just as worried about the pills as the alcohol. Does he love Kelly or only the money she makes for him? It’s not clear.
However, it soon becomes painfully clear that Kelly should have stayed in rehab for the full time -- because after receiving a cruel gift right before the show, she hits the bottle again. Hubby has also contributed to her stress by being emotionally distant from her and by paying too much attention to Chiles (Meester), a beautiful young singer he’s hired. From this point on, viewers are subjected to scene after scene of Kelly’s alcoholic binges and hangovers. “This is just plain tedious,” my husband whispered to me after watching Paltrow in so many of these repetitive and sordid sequences. “I feel the same way,” my daughter echoed quietly.
Suddenly, a miracle occurs! Kelly shapes up for a “Make a Wish” visit to a youngster with a terminal disease. She brings her band with her and sings a delightful song to the adoring little guy. Paltrow is wonderful in this touching scene. Her terrific rapport with the little boy seems quite genuine, and her singing is absolutely charming.
Finally, we see Kelly give the concert performance of her life -- another miracle, for evidently she needed no rehearsals. And then, with no rhyme or reason something terrible happens. But not to worry, for no matter how many country music stars lose their way, there are others to take their place. And in Country Strong, it’s Beau and Chiles -- played to perfection by Hedlund and Meester -- who ably carry on.
(Released by Screen Gems and rated “PG-13” for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content.)
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