“Country Strong” is Formidable

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Photo Courtesy of Screen Gems

Director Shana Feste presents a music melodrama with some tough knots that unravels through a love for country music.

The movie features Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund (“Tron”) and Leighton Meester (“Gossip Girl”).

Paltrow reclaims the spotlight in “Country Strong.” She plays the role of Kelly Canter, a six-time Grammy winner battling a drinking problem, who leaves rehab a bit too early to go on a comeback tour arranged by her husband, James Canter (Tim McGraw).

During her stay in rehab, she receives help from her sponsor, Beau Hutton, played by Garrett Hedlund. Sparks fly between them through their love for music.

However, tensions arise when Kelly finds out that her husband has a new musical protégé, Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) that will be joining her tour. Canter begins to feel threatened by Stanton because she’s a young and talented girl that the crowds love. She’s also afraid of losing her husband. Along with that, her previous incident of a stage fiasco while she was five months pregnant keeps haunting her.

The characters all manage to weave together throughout the film. Kelly falls for Beau, but has had too much history with James to ever leave him. Beau eventually falls for Chiles, but her dream of a career makes her hesitant to go through a relationship with Beau.
There are not many stars that have two major motion pictures in theaters at the same time. You may have seen Hedlund’s recent role in Disney’s “Tron: Legacy,” a big contrast to “Country Strong.” However, in this film, he becomes quite the talented singer with a raw voice for country music. This is also his second time working with Tim McGraw who plays his father in “Friday Night Lights.”

Beau’s rugged looks, ability to charm, his voice and his coming-to-the-rescue tendency makes him the main man of the movie.
Bickering ensues between Beau and Chiles during the film, but what’s great is the love they soon develop for each other. Meester and Hutton display genuine chemistry on-screen. There’s a love scene that relates to a song they sing together called “Give into Me,” which goes along beautifully with the scene.

One of the film’s touching moments is when Kelly visits a young boy with leukemia through the Make-A-Wish foundation. We see a side of her that’s loving and gentle. She sings a song to him and gets the class to dance. She gives a motherly vibe as her face and smile glow; it’s all very heartfelt in this moment.

After the first few shows on the tour are a disaster, Paltrow provides us with a stellar performance when her character performs in Dallas for the second time. It’s riveting to see Paltrow sing some country tunes. She has a very pleasing voice that riles up the crowd. She struts and dances on stage very naturally as well.

Just before that performance, Kelly shows another touching moment when she’s in the dressing room with Chiles. She expresses honesty and empathy as she offers advice to Chiles who swiftly writes each point down in her notebook. A connection is made between the two when Kelly tells Chiles to never hide anything about her life and to always choose love over everything else. We’re all reaching for a dream, and this scene makes an emphasis on how crucial love is when thinking about our goals in life.

Leighton Meester brings humor and sympathy in her role as Chiles Stanton. She switches roles from her usual “Gossip Girl” character Blair Waldorf. Instead of ruling the Upper East Side of New York, her role as beauty queen-turned-singer, Chiles Stanton takes on the country scene by storm.

What’s ironic about this film is that the real country singer, Tim McGraw, doesn’t sing at all. His character James mainly attempts to keep his wife together.

Despite all of Kelly’s emotional breakdowns and recklessness with alcohol, the characters deliver solid performances with their singing. The music definitely pulls the movie together.

So what’s so great about a film with people singing country music? Well, there’s drama and subplots. There’s love and love triangles. But most importantly, there’s strength within each character that makes them all country strong.

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