Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester
Directed by Shana Feste
Country Strong? Talk about a title scam job. This lame-ass chick-flick sampling of Crazy Heart is more like country Kryptonite. The cast, led by Gwyneth Paltow as broken-down Nashville queen Kelly Canter, is sucked dry of any juice by Shana Feste, whose script is laughably inauthentic and whose direction marshals clichés as if they were freshly minted. Kelly is just out of a too-short rehab after a spectacular onstage crackup in Dallas where she drunkenly falls off the stage, suffers a miscarriage and ruins what's left of her marriage to manager James (Tim McGraw). Now hubby has scheduled a three-stop Texas comeback tour, ending back in Dallas. You fill in the blanks. You'd surely do a better a job than this misbegotten movie.
I could tell you how Kelly brings along studly singer-songwriter Beau Hutton (Tron Legacy's Garrett Hedlund), the orderly she's been banging in rehab. And how James fills the bill by adding his young protégé Chiles Stanton (Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester), a former beauty queen with a clear and present stage fright. But I'm dozing just writing this. The dialogue could sink Streep. Kelly tells Beau that "love and fame can't live in the same place." And she advises Chiles not to take laxatives before a show because "they never work the way you think they will." I'm still pondering that one.
Paltrow made a spectacular impression this season on Glee, playing a substitute teacher gone wild and performing Cee Lo's "Forget You." But she drowns in this country goo. All the actors sing with Auto-Tuned abandon, except for McGraw who doesn't sing at all. That's right, the one genuine country artist (with 11 consecutive Number One albums) is silenced, which shows you why they should have called this mess Country Wrong. In only her second film, following The Greatest, Feste might as well be warbling McGraw's "Can't Tell Me Nothin," so misplaced is her confidence. McGraw scores the best revenge by giving the film's only subtle and moving performance. After this and The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights, Faith Hill's hit-making hubby earns an acting future. Country Strong is dead on arrival.