Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pretty People, Pretty Songs, Predictable Story

The People and the Songs are Pretty, But “Country Strong” Story Weak

By Skip Sheffield

“Country Strong” could have been called “Country Song,” for it is a lot like a country-style weeper… drawn out to almost two hours long.
Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter, a country star who has been in and out of alcohol rehab for an unspecified length of time. We meet Kelly as she is being exhorted by her manager/husband James (real-life country star Tim McGraw) to make a comeback tour.
Kelly’s rehab sponsor, Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) does not think this is a good idea. He feels Kelly is too fragile to face the rigors of the road, especially since the first stop is Dallas, where Kelly’s world crashed eight years ago. In a doubly tragic, foolish move, a pregnant Kelly had too much to drink before a concert and tripped and fell off the stage. The end result was a miscarriage.
This is a heavy burden for any woman to bear, and it would be presumptuous of me to say whether any person could ever completely get over such a trauma, even if she is given a baby quail by her husband to nurse.
Writer-director Shana Feste has already proved she has a way with a weeper with “The Greatest,” and if Kelly’s treatment were successful there would be no country song conflict.
And so with the enticement of an opening slot on the tour, Beau reluctantly goes along with the idea. Since this is a country song, you just know there is more lovin’ and cheatin’ about to go on behind the scenes.
Beau has been getting a little too close to Kelly. James knows this, but he has been messing around with Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), the beautiful young ex-beauty queen who has also been offered an opening slot on the tour.
In case you are wondering what possibly could be Chiles’ problem, it’s simple: stage fright.
Now don’t laugh folks. Many a potential star has been extinguished because of stage fright, but that particular trauma is not explored. With Beau by her side Chiles is just fine.
But wait, you country-savvy people are thinking, won’t Beau and Chiles inevitably fall into each other’s arms? And won’t Kelly get jealous when she finds out?
Bingo! Go to the front of the country songwriting class.
The good news is that Gwyneth Paltrow has a lovely singing voice, and she is given some good songs to sing.
Garrett Hedlund’s voice is even better: a smooth, deep baritone that makes we green with envy.
As for Chiles Stanton, her strong suit is her beautiful doll-like face. Her voice is okay and she sings on key, but it would have been more effective if she were confident enough to sing harmony with Beau instead of unison.
That’s the musician in me, and most folks won’t be concerned by such matters.
So if you want to see a bunch of pretty people singing pretty, “Country Strong” is your movie. Just don’t go expecting to hear Tim McGraw, because he don’t, er doesn’t, sing a lick.

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