Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Country Strong

posted by Nell Minow
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content
Profanity:Some bad language, many uses of the s-word
Nudity/Sex:Sexual references and situations including adultery
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, smoking, character abuses pills and alcohol
Violence/Scariness:Some punches, confrontations, suicide
Diversity Issues:None
Movie Release Date:January 7, 2011

The husband manager of the beloved country singer just out of rehab says to her, “Do I tell you how to sing, darlin’? Hmm? Have I ever told you how to sing a song?” “That ain’t the point,” she weakly responds, and he keeps going. “Don’t tell me how to run your life. I been doin’ pretty good with it.”

That brief exchange 36 years ago in the classic Robert Altman film, “Nashville,” summarizes the new Gwyneth Paltrow film, “Country Strong.” She plays Kelly Canter, always introduced as a six-time Grammy winner, whose husband-manager James (played by real-life country superstar Tim McGraw) takes her out of rehab a month early for a series of concerts, on the theory that her brand needs more rehabilitation than her substance abuse problem.

But the incomplete rehab is not the only unfinished business. In a performance in Dallas, Kelly, then five months pregnant, was so drunk she fell off the stage. She has to regain the trust of her fans, concert promoters, her husband, and — toughest of all — herself.

To make things even more complicated and difficult, the opening acts for her new tour are Beau (“Tron: Legacy’s” Garrett Hedlund) and Chiles (“Gossip Girl’s” Leighton Meester). Kelly likes Beau. James likes Chiles. Beau and Chiles like each other. Not even a country song, much less a movie, can manage all that drama.

The music is the best part. Hedlund has a surprisingly rich singing voice, the mahogany tones giving depth and stature to an under-written character, and Meester handles her songs like the beauty pageant contestant with Taylor Swift ambitions she is asked to play. But all of Paltrow’s considerable acting chops are not up to the challenge of playing either a country singer or a substance abuser. Her toned, willowy body and elegant, urban posture are out of place and her singing voice, while pleasant and tuneful is far better suited to the saucy songs she performed on “Glee.”

As in her first film, The Greatest, writer-director Shana Feste shows a great deal of promise, but like many excited beginners, she still has not figured out how to remove the clutter from her story. Individual scenes work well enough and the songs are very good but she juggles too many relationships with too many ups and downs and the conclusion feels unearned and tacked on. Part of the power of a country song is its simplicity in telling its story, a lesson Feste still needs to learn.

Parents should know that this film has frequent drinking and smoking, character abuses pills and alcohol, other characters get tipsy, strong language, references to miscarriage, sexual references and situations including adultery, some punches, and a suicide.

Family discussion: What do we learn from the bird Kelly and James care for? Are Kelly and James harder on each other or themselves? What real-life performers inspired these characters?

If you like this, try: “Nashville



  • http://www.dustinputman.com/reviews/c/10_countrystrong.htm Dustin Putman

    Very surprised to see you recommending this one, Nell. Without giving anything away for those who haven’t seen it, what did you think of the ending? I go into more detail in my review, but I found it distasteful and hypocritical in the extreme. In another key way, it reminded me of “Seven Pounds,” a film I know you had issues with.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    SPOILER ALERT: I did not think the suicide in this film was portrayed as honorable or redemptive, which for me was a key difference from “Seven Pounds,” Dustin. It’s not a good movie, but there were elements I enjoyed and appreciated and I found its faults forgivable.

  • http://www.dustinputman.com Dustin Putman

    SPOILER ALERT –
    The last line of the film, a part of Gwyneth Paltrow’s letter that she reads in voiceover, is, “I’ve got a right to disappear.” This really rubbed me the wrong way, making Kelly seem immensely selfish. If she is mentally ill, the film does not treat this with respect. And, since we are led to believe the film’s events are leading to her rise out of the abyss she’s found herself in–she even talks late in the film about how one day she plans to have a baby daughter–it made the conclusion’s events all the more unforgivable. The film misguidedly suggests that there is hope for Kelly, but writer-director Shana Feste, for reasons unknown, refuses her of this redemption.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    SPOILER ALERT: A fair point, Dustin. But I thought Feste tried to make Kelly a deeply damaged character. For me the line about how she wanted to treat a baby daughter like fine china was less like a plan than a foreshadowing due to the contrast with her history. Feste’s signals are mixed, but I did not find the earlier scenes as hopeful as you did.

  • http://www.dustinputman.com Dustin Putman

    A fair point on your end, too, Nell. I suppose we can also both agree that the film made us wish we were watching the brilliant “Nashville,” instead!

  • Jeffrey L. Wiseman

    Wow! Just read Nell Minow’s review of Country Strong in the Friday, January 7, 2011 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.
    Since when does depicted smoking negatively influence a movie? This is pathetic!

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks for writing, Mr. Wiseman. I did not review the movie for the Sun-Times. Roger Ebert did. http://www.suntimes.com/3156324-417/kelly-strong-beau-paltrow-james.html My review is the one above your comment. What I wrote for the Sun-Times was not a review but an advisory for parents and others who want to know more about a movie’s appropriateness for them and their family. That kind of information is not positive or negative; it is just descriptive, so that people can make an informed choice about whether they want to see the movie. My advisories always include information about drinking, smoking, and drug use as well as violence, sexual material, language, and other concerns.
    If there is anything further I can do to explain the difference between a review and an advisory, just let me know.

  • Shary

    Hi Nell,
    Ijust got around to seeing this one. Paltrow does an okay job of playing Kelly Canter, a sick cookie who belongs in a mental hospital instead of on a stage. Unfortunately, Kelly’s weepiness and self-pity become so annoying toward the end that, rather than feeling her pain, I felt like cheering her demise. The plot is thin, and the supporting characters are too shallow to evoke much in the way of interest. Probably the best part of the movie is Hedlund’s singing.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    I agree with you about Hedlund, Shary. It felt to me like they had changed the ending a few times and never came up with one that really worked.

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