Country Strong
dir-scr Shana Feste
prd Tobey Maguire, Jenno Topping
with Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester, Marshall Chapman, Jeremy Childs, JD Parker, Cinda McCain, Dan Beene, Darrin Dickerson, Alana Grace, Candace Michelle Coffee
release US 22.Dec.10, UK 25.Mar.11
10/US ScreenGems 1h57
Country Strong
Stand by your woman: Paltrow and Hedlund

paltrow mcgraw ,eester
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Country Strong Like last year's Crazy Heart, this film traces the journey of a struggling addict country singer. And while the film is somewhat sentimental and simplistic, it features some strong acting that manages to draw us in.

Nashville superstar Kelly (Paltrow) is released from rehab a month early to get back on the road and make some money. Kelly wants her sponsor Beau (Hedlund) to open her shows, while her husband-manager James (McGraw) also lines up rising-star beauty queen Chiles (Meester). Beau thinks she's just a "country Barbie"; he genuinely cares about Kelly, whose marriage to James has gone cold. Unsurprisingly, she turns to Beau for comfort and more when her comeback tour doesn't go as expected. And the big finale is in Dallas, where she fell from grace.

The film is warm and engaging from the start, although writer-director Feste starts in with some heavy-handed symbolism, as Kelly is raising a rescued baby bird in a little wooden box. And the film's melodramatic-downer tone includes a corny soap-opera plot that never widens beyond the awkward connections between these four characters. But at least there are enough real-life echoes to help us stay interested. And we recognise the premise from the headlines, with paparazzi hounding Kelly's troubled private life.

Even better are the relaxed performances by all four actors. Paltrow adds surprising depth to a character who seems superficial, and develops believable chemistry with the other actors. The role is a little over-egged, with extreme emotional reactions to everything that happens, but Paltrow makes Kelly likeably brittle. Meanwhile, the original songs are terrific; as with Crazy Heart, they all sound like timeless country classics and are performed with so much personality that they often carry an exhilarating emotional punch.

But the music is constantly interrupted as the story focuses on a range of grim confrontations, alcoholic relapses, messy performances, illicit attraction and flashes of jealousy that come straight from the screenwriter rather than the characters. This means that, while the film is watchable, the lack of real momentum means that it feels mopey and overlong. But there are some great moments along the way that make it worth a look. Or at least worth a listen.

cert 12 themes, language, some sexuality 12.Mar.11

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Country Strong Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall