‘Country Strong’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, January 7, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

The words “country singer” do not naturally gravitate toward Gwyneth Paltrow like magnets, but she is an actress, and a darned good one. And if the central role of “Country Strong” requires Paltrow to play a famous country singer, she’ll probably do an impeccable job of it.

The results can be debated — and hey, that’s what we’re here for. But first, let’s gauge the wisdom of writer-director Shana Feste (who did the weepie “The Greatest” earlier this year) mounting yet another tale of a celebrity battling the downside of fame.

The country superstar in question is Kelly Canter, played by Paltrow.

Sprung from rehab at the beginning of the story, Kelly needs to get on stage again quickly, in order to wipe away the memory of a disastrous concert that went seriously wrong.

At least, that’s what her husband-manager (Tim McGraw) thinks; he’s pushing her out on tour right away. Kelly’s wobbly attempt at a comeback is attended by two up-and-comers hired as her opening acts.

There’s Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund, more impressive here than he was in “Tron: Legacy”), who has clearly grown extremely close to Kelly during her drying-out period.

And there’s cutie-pie songbird Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester, from “Gossip Girl”), who seems as manufactured as Beau is gritty and real. She’s younger and more squeaky-clean than Kelly, which gives the superstar a reason to look over her shoulder at this possible rival.

Graphing out the vectors between these four characters is no easy task, because mutual attractions are sparking up all over the place. Beau brings in the younger-hunk aspect and the appeal of supposed “authenticity,” while Chiles supplies a dash of “All About Eve” anxiety.

Feste gives rough edges to the characters, which is a risky move in an age when Hollywood demands that protagonists in movies be likable at all times.

Nobody’s entirely good in this scenario, and Kelly does some out-and-out unforgivable things.

Gwyneth Paltrow navigates all the dramatic heavy lifting with great humanity, although when it comes to enacting the strutting showmanship of a country superstar, she’s less convincing. That sort of thing requires an exuberant hokum; maybe she’s too smart an actress to feel that in her bones.

But the movie already has some problems. When Kelly’s heart-to-heart talk with Chiles includes the advice “Get a good publicist,” it does tend to take away from the beauty of the moment.

We suspect what’s coming long before the climax grinds into view, and then a final scene (which feels tacked-on) doesn’t help matters. Appreciate the movie for the fine work of Paltrow, real-life country star McGraw, and two future stars. But for clarity and a tragic sense of character, go listen to Patsy Cline.

“Country Strong”

Gwyneth Paltrow heads a fine cast in a story full of characters with admirably rough edges: a country-music superstar, released from rehab, charts her own messy downfall. Unfortunately the movie grinds away to an inevitable conclusion, without finding something new in all this.

Rating: PG-13, for language, subject matter

Now showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Mall, Metro, Oat Tree, Pacific Place, Cascade Mall

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