Country Strong

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country strong

She can sing, but I’m beginning to think perhaps she can’t act.

This is the worst movie of the year.

Sure, the year just started a week ago, but it’ll be on the list at the end of the year, rest assured.

I thought that I’d refrain from telling the ending, or anything that happens late in the movie, in case people want to waste their money on this piece of garbage. This will also keep me from writing a review that lists 100 things wrong with the film.

I thought that what I would do is start to write a review based on the first 30 minutes (had I known I would be taking this approach, I would’ve walked out after watching the little I watched).

The movie starts well enough with a young, good looking up-and-coming country singer (played well by Garrett Hedlund, last seen in Tron Legacy). He’s in a tiny bar, but tells a funny story about a song he played for his mom. The crowd seems happy and so does he.

We quickly see him in a rehab facility with Gwyneth Paltrow. They have a bit of chemistry as they work on a song together. When her husband, played by country singer Tim McGraw (who played Hedlund’s father in Friday Night Lights), comes in – this is the start of where the script goes downhill (and the first of many scenes where you wonder why people don’t lock doors).

McGraw is rude to Hedlund, who is acting as her sponsor/drug counselor. He asks for a bellhop to carry the bags to the car, and then barks that Hedlund should do this. Oh, and he’s taking her out of rehab 30 days early, which everyone advises against (wonder where that’s going to lead?)

McGraw tells Paltrow that he’s looking at a former beauty queen to open shows. She of course wants Hedlund. In a great coincidence, when he goes to hear her sing – she tanks on stage. Hedlund does well.

Hedlund and the beauty queen fight like little girls backstage, yet he comes to the stage and rescues her with a duet. McGraw tells him he should open with her. He says no, because…I’m guessing most singers in dive bars, playing for free beer and little money — turn down an opening slot for a national act that would bring them a nice paycheck, and fame and fortune.

He ends up doing the tour (did you really have to wonder if he would take it?)

Oh, and for some reason, Paltrow carries around a baby bird she found in a forest. This means that everyone McGraw goes (including a smoky bar to hear singers) he has to carry the bird in a cigar box.

The couple goes to bed and we see they are in a passionless marriage. Yet when she gets upset as they lay there, he tells a story about the first time he heard her sing and “although I’m not a religious guy, I thought it was an angel singing.” She smiled and said “I love that story.”

Problem is, there was no story. He didn’t explain where he heard her singing or give any details. He just said how he felt when he heard her. How about we hear the story, so maybe we can get background on characters and possibly root for them. I’m guessing it wouldn’t matter, as you end up hating everyone in this movie – even characters you’re supposed to like. There’s really no one in the movie I rooted for, aside from the baby bird.

There’s a scene where Paltrow is getting onto the tour bus, and the beauty queen approaches to ask for a signed CD and tell her how much she idolizes her and how thrilled she is. She even says the tour bus looks so nice she won’t even sit on the toilet. McGraw then has to say “You think this is for you?” before getting on and slamming the door. She looks back and sees a ratty van that she’ll be crammed in with eight band members.

Weird, because I’ve seen hundreds of concerts over the years, and interviewed a number of bands before shows. The opening act usually has their own tour bus, too; but on the off chance that this opening band didn’t, I just find it odd that she wasn’t made aware of this. She was just showing up in a parking lot and there wasn’t an email sent out before hand, or when contracts signed, her being told how things were going down.

There was one clever line in the movie, and it happened at the 28 minute mark. As Paltrow is taking pills, her “sponsor” questions it. She replies “I’m just taking what’s in the square.” He replies, “It’s a big square.” She smiles and says “I have big problems.”

Kinda clever, until…McGraw tells the guy to mind his own business and that “if she stays away from alcohol, the pills are fine.”

I just can’t figure out how a few minutes later, when someone sends her a gruesome package backstage, she becomes drunk and yelling with half a bottle of vodka in her hands. I mean, Van Halen can demand no brown M&Ms backstage. I’m guessing someone out of rehab has asked that there be no bottles of booze, especially when her husband/manager is trying to keep her on the straight and narrow.

The first concert is a complete disaster, as Paltrow is drunk on stage. And in a performance that many thought would garner Oscar buzz, it was actually embarrassing. In fact, her entire performance in this is just awful, right down to the pouty faces and crying. I’m guessing she might get a Razzie award. Oh, and on that note…this movie actually turns campy, and becomes like a country singing version of Showgirls.

If I were to say what I enjoyed about the movie, it would be that the songs weren’t that bad. And, there was a scene where Paltrow visits a sick child at school that’s adorable and very well written.

Another scene has a drunken Paltrow on a bar, singing Keep on Smiling with a bunch of bikers. It wasn’t a good scene, but I haven’t heard that great Wet Willie song in 20 years, so that was kinda cool.

I wondered years ago, how movies would deal with contemporary things, and this movie has problems tackling that, too.

For example, when Paltrow is always out running around with Hedlund, he sometimes asks where she was. He’s never calling her cell phone.

When it turns out the opening act never was a Miss Dallas as everyone thought, I immediately wondered – didn’t anyone Google her before putting her on the tour based on her being a former Miss Dallas who can sing?

And does nobody in this movie know of this invention that has been around for centuries – door locks. Those are good for when you’re doing drugs, having sex, or just generally don’t want people barging in on ya.

I remember hating the Tom Hanks movie Punchline, which was about the backstage stuff at comedy clubs. I felt that wasn’t realistic either, but at least you had a few funny jokes (not many).

This movie reminded me of a version of that, with country singers instead of stand-up comedians. Unfortunately, you can’t say “At least Paltrow has a good voice,” because really, who cares? It makes the concert montage scene we see at one point tolerable, but we still have a movie that has to work. It doesn’t.

It was like my boots stepped in cow pies, and I’m trying to get the stink off my feet the whole time (maybe they were Milk Duds…)

There’s a scene where someone says “Just because they might put these songs on the radio, doesn’t mean they’re worth a damn!”

Well, that same thing can be said, inserting “films” for “songs” and “movie theater” for “radio.”

A better movie could’ve been made by taking a story from a country song – the guy losing the girl, losing his double-wide, his dog dying, his only friend being Jack…Jack Daniels.

I didn’t mind that this theme has been done to death. That was my mindset when I saw Crazy Heart last year, but it surprised me by being a good movie.

You don’t have to be original. You do have to make a decent film. This hits too many wrong notes to even come close to being worth a trip to the movies.

I’m giving it an F.