In country music, you wear your heart on your sleeve: big, strong men sing about their vulnerability, and the women are feminine and full of sass. But superstar Kelly Canter (Paltrow) has lost her spark and is in rehab, caught between a fading relationship with her husband/manager (McGraw) and a new love for Beau Hutton (Garret Hedlund), a warm-hearted singer with a crisp voice and modest dreams.
When Kelly goes back on tour, her husband hires beauty queen Chiles (Leighton Meester) as an opening act, and with Beau on the side, the quartet’s love stories tangle up. But intertwined hearts do not necessarily make for an interesting film: the overdramatised plot and performances lack the authenticity that is at the essence of country music.
The cast performs the songs decently – although McGraw, the only real musician, doesn’t make a single peep – but their warbling can’t save this clichéd, saccharine mess. Paltrow’s failed diva becomes truly annoying, and there’s not one couple you cheer for.
The film’s 117 minutes might be a decent distraction on a hungover Sunday where thinking is on a minimal level – or for those who liked Mamma Mia!’s mawkish, song-driven story. Otherwise, steer clear of Country Strong.
COUNTRY STRONG I Directed by Shana Feste with Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw (USA 2011). Opens June 9