COUNTRY STRONG D+
USA (117 mi) 2010 d: Shana Feste
I can't believe I fell for this shit twice! —J.J.(Jeremy Childs)
Well if you ever want to shoot yourself, this is the movie to watch, as you just might find a reason to do it. This is one down, down, downer of a film, and one that is patheticically short in having anything substantial to offer. Instead it’s a continual stream of country music cliché’s that typifies a made-for-TV movie, feeling more like a Gossip Girl episode, a film that hasn’t an ounce of emotional authenticity to it, yet it’s filled with close ups on faces with perfect hair and make up that have precious little to express. The director has once again written and directed a film that dwells on wretched misery, apparently an obsessional subject that keeps her occupied, but she’s simply the wrong messenger, as that’s not a subject to treat lightly, and what’s missing is the needed depth to make any of this matter. Instead, without a moment’s worth of silence or reflection, it sounds like someone left the radio running with a wall to wall country music soundtrack, feeling more like a Disney movie that’s meant to commercialize the songs and sell movie merchandise. Gwyneth Paltrow is the down and out country music star who is pulled too early from drug and alcohol rehab to quickly resurrect her fledgling career and is filmed and costumed like a perfume commercial, where it could just as easily be Jennifer Lopez or Tyra Banks, each modeling whatever merchandise they have to sell. What this film may unintentionally be expressing is how superficial and shallow the music business really is, and how stupid fans really are to continue to sink their hard earned cash dollars into a business that operates through such callous manipulation, all the while pretending to be down home and real. The singers are marketed as being unpretentious and honest, as if the sincerity comes from the heart, yet they’re doled out to the public like the latest line of automobiles, where sleeping with the right person apparently gets your name on the bill, filled with all the superlative hype and product credibility. Still this seems like an unintended side effect of sitting through a pitifully bad movie, perhaps reading something into it that was never there.
Instead the script is told in dual layers, showing the light going out on a faded country music star while another one rises for the next generation’s up and coming crop of wannabe’s. It’s also told in terms of relationships, as Paltrow has the hots for one of the young rehab attendants (Garrett Hedlund, filmed so often in close up it’s as if he was portraying Zac Efron) who also writes and sings country music on the side, while her old guard husband (Tim McGraw) is overzealously trying to prematurely push her back into the limelight, managing her career while showing little concern for her well being. Also at the same time, a Texas beauty queen turned country singer (Leighton Meester, actually from Gossip Girl, filmed as Vanessa Hudgens) is attempting to get her foot in the door, wanting in the worst way to become a star. Somehow they’re all drawn together in a macabre musical chairs of bedding the wrong sex partners, where if they keep changing, maybe eventually they’ll get it right. Paltrow herself is seen as a pampered diva, a woman of privilege, an incredibally narcissistic individual who hasn’t had a clear head in ages, where drugs have changed her perception of herself. Gone are the days when she was fearless and headstrong and couldn’t wait to get onstage, whereas now she’s plagued by fears and self doubts and has very little connection to anyone anymore, which includes her audience, as she’s been avoiding anything resembling the truth about herself for as long as she can remember. In the same manner, her husband speaks as her over controlling manager but never as her husband anymore, as both are avoiding the obvious. So without any real truth at the center of the picture, the overall message is surprisingly empty, where all that’s left are side effects and leftovers. The film takes an offensive turn with Gywneth’s character, one that really sends a wrong message not only to viewers, but one that diminishes any credibility in the overall story. In what is most likely a dishonest and failed attempt at getting real, the film sends a horrible and irresponsible message that won’t soon be forgotten. This is such a stinker that it’s likely to leave a stain on Paltrow’s career, as this is a tainted role, not only anti-heroic, but one that too easily throws under a bus any sense of humanity.