Thursday, January 13, 2011

Movie with Abe: Country Strong

Country Strong
Directed by Shana Feste
Released January 7, 2011

In 2009, Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for playing alcoholic singer Bad Blake. This 2010 Oscar qualifier seemed at face value like it might be a fairly similar story, with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Kelly Canter swapped in for Blake as the protagonist. While both films do have recognizably alike roots, this is an altogether different experience. Whereas Blake incurred the admiration of one small-town reporter, Canter is mobbed by thousands of fans, who support her despite a horrific drunken incident midway through a concert that landed her in rehab. Canter’s journey back towards her better days happens entirely in the public eye, and seeing behind the curtain in the film provides an even greater understanding of the character and her struggles.

In many ways, Canter isn’t even the central character of “Country Strong.” The film’s title comes from a song crooned by Canter at her big concert, but it can be read as applicable to the entire country music scene. Heavily featured in the film along with Canter are her husband James (Tim McGraw), who seems far more concerned with advancing her (and as a result, his) career than caring for the emotional needs of his wife, and two budding stars, Beau Hutton and Chiles Stanton. Beau (Garrett Hedlund) is a mild-mannered, kindly musician with no aspirations of fame or glory; just a simple appreciation of the art of music and hometown performance. Chiles (Leighton Meester) is a beauty queen with a mild case of stage fright eager to become the next big star. The story of Beau and Chiles and their immersion into the world of country music is a major piece of “Country Strong,” and it’s perhaps its most compelling asset.

The performances in “Country Strong” help to lend it a great deal of intimacy and authenticity. As with the structure of the film, it’s not the decent enough performances from Paltrow and McGraw in the arguably lead roles that carry the film. Instead, it’s the strong turns from Hedlund, who first appeared on the screen as Brad Pitt’s cousin Patroclus in the disappointing 2004 film “Troy,” and Meester, impressing far more than in her role on the CW’s “Gossip Girl,” that give the film its heart. Its broader story may be familiar, but this particular tale manages to be engaging and endearing. It’s not a perfect film, as evidenced by some of the lackluster and often trite dialogue found throughout the film. Yet it’s a surprisingly good music film with some terrific songs and an appropriate balance between music and drama.


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