If Crazy Heart was a classic Merle Haggard-style number (or at least thought it was), then its supposed female analogue Country Strong would have to be the bland, overproduced, deafening tunes belted by Gwyneth Paltrow as brassy country megastar-cum-alcoholic Kelly Canter, who could go toe-to-toe with Ronee Blakely in a Nashville meltdown-off.
But we don’t even hear much of those; for worse or better, Country Strong doesn’t give Paltrow much of a chance to prove her vocal prowess, as her character can’t seem to get through a single song without breaking into a debilitating crying jag.
Busted out of rehab with a month left in her stint, Kelly is thrown onto a three-city Texas comeback tour. There, she finds herself in an All About Eve catastrofuck. Flustered husband/manager James (Tim McGraw, strutting his, ahem, “acting chops”) has discovered one Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), an endearing flibbertigibbet with stage fright who unwittingly steals both Kelly’s songs and her fuckbuddy “sponsor” Beau (Garrett Hedlund). Either this wilting rose loses all her petals, Spears-style, or she overcomes her yen for Smirnoff and puts on a rousing show—hell, why not both?
Despite being a heaping pile of utter trash, the comically sincere Country Strong still shelled out for big-time Oscar winner Paltrow, who proceeds to whip out AMPAS-baiting tantrums and smudged-eyeliner pleas. Never mind that Paltrow can’t even be bothered to maintain a consistent twang, or that this shtick requires a fraction of the skill she displays in her banter with Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man movies.
In welcome counterpoint to the Big Country hysterics stands Hedlund’s Beau, a honey-baritoned old-school singer with gratuitously dreamy eyes and ambitions no greater than spending the rest of his Saturday nights playing dive-bar gigs. Hedlund’s laconic gravitas is shocking, if only because in Tron: Legacy he was less believably human than Jeff Bridge’s computerized face. Unlike his leading lady, he attempts verisimilitude—not to mention busting out the only music in the film that doesn’t peel wallpaper.