Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Under 250: Country Strong

I don't know why I watched Country Strong.  The weather must be getting to me, is all I can say.  I suppose that apart from my latent masochism I must have been hoping that something redeeming (in that Nashville sense) could come from just another tale of those country blues, but that sounds horribly unlike me.  Needless to say: I put Country Strong on, threw up a little bit in my mouth, and let it ride itself out as I read a book and moved around the room suddenly looking for things to do.   Amazingly: I didn't miss a damn thing.  It feels as though there are a million of these down and out redemption fables centered around country music, and where I could deal with Crazy Heart in some respects as character driven (but still silly mediocre, I maintain this), Country Strong is about as shallow and derivative as they come. The problem here, as I see it, is that the characters are archetypes instead of real people.  Their dramatic motivation seems crafted from artifice and never truly genuine.  Kelly Cantor (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a superficial tragic hero awash with petty, poorly acted, superficial substance abuse issues and marital drama.  She's a weak, fairly unlikable character the film wants us to back wholeheartedly and cheer on.  It pitches low balls, giving us mopey Kelly Make A Wish moments or a lucid bit of friendly advice to her adversary (Leighton Meester) to prove she's human while never actually delivering on her lowest lows.  All of the drama is sort of in the past, what's left is an on-stage, lame emotional breakdown, a tame drunk moment dancing on a bar and a bit of puking in a trash can.  Ah yes, the horror. We're truly touching bottom in the most tabloid friendly way imaginable.  Kelly is a sad character, but she's written and played without any gravitas.  She's an easily dismissable magazine headline.  We don't see the strength or commitment to her art that could make her downward spiral truly worth watching.  What we see instead is a decidedly weak woman who's happiest staring into the eye's of baby Tron and kicking her feet around on an unmade bed.  We're told Kelly was once "tough as nails" but we see nothing but a frustratingly resigned trembling wad of goop.  Really, she's exhausting in a way that's not compelling.  So, where Country Strong wishes it were Crazy Heart, Walk the Line, or Coal Miner's Daughter, it's instead a musically-inclined Lifetime movie.  From beginning to end, it's a Texas-sized cycle of cliches, southern accents, attempts to play to your sympathies, and nothing new.  If you watch it and make it to those final scenes, you'll know what I mean. For those with no intention of doing so (spoiler alert) let's say there were two roads: redemption and sudden death. This movie takes the one that's the most nonsensical and plays it for shock value.  It's trite, bland, boring, and just not for me.  Maybe if you're a fan of the music, you can find a little bit more to love.  I couldn't, and admittedly found myself fast forwarding through the numbers after about thirty seconds of each one.  I just don't believe Gwyneth Paltrow as a country queen.  Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund made it work, but Paltrow?  Um...what did I miss?

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