Jeff Bridges won an Oscar this past year for playing a boozy country singer in Crazy Heart, but don't expect Gwyneth Paltrow to win even so much as a People's Choice Award for playing a similar part in Country Strong. It's not that Paltrow is bad — she does a valiant job trying to overcome the role's predictable arcs through sheer force of tears and slurred words — but it's unlikely many folks will remember a movie that may well be "country strong" but is most assuredly cinematically weak.
Paltrow stars as country superstar Kelly Canter, who's sprung from rehab a tad too early by her husband-manager James (Tim McGraw). Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), an orderly at the clinic, thinks this is a mistake; luckily for all concerned, he also turns out to be an aspiring singer, so at James' insistence, he joins Kelly's three-city tour to keep an eye on her as well as serve as her opening act. Also along for the ride is Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), another wannabe who's tasked with splitting the opening bill with Beau. From here, the movie turns into a soap-opera version of musical chairs. Beau is interested in Kelly and Chiles and songwriting. Kelly is interested in James and Beau and the bottle. Chiles is interested in Beau and James and fame. James is interested in Kelly and Chiles and filling arenas.
Consistency is hardly writer-director Shana Feste's strong suit. Beau is constantly applauded by the other characters for being one of the "few good ones," yet the way he ping-pongs between Kelly and Chiles makes him seem like merely a randy good ole boy. Chiles begins the picture as Eve Harrington before turning into The Sound of Music's Maria. And even for a boozehound, Kelly's actions rarely make sense from one scene to the next (this leads to a ridiculous WTF ending). At least the unlikely character transitions allow the actors to provide some shadings to their portrayals. Hedlund is far better here than in TRON: Legacy, while McGraw's minimalist efforts work fine for the part of James. As for Meester (TV's Gossip Girl), she actually makes the best impression among the leads.
At almost two hours, the film is criminally overlong and has as many false endings as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The soundtrack includes mostly new tunes, but the only country song that kept racing through my increasingly bored mind was Willie Nelson's "Wake Me When It's Over."