There isn’t anything sadder in the world than a good country tune, except for maybe the booze-soaked, sleep-deprived, emotionally impossible days and nights that are the inspiration behind these great songs. Writer-director Shana Feste’s “Country Strong” is one of those true tragedies. One of the genre’s biggest stars falls off a Dallas stage, five months pregnant and wasted, killing her child and her spirit at the same time. A year later, she is checking out of rehab earlier than she should to return to that same stage and reclaim her career as well her own self. People are fighting, cheating and both breaking and making up, but by the time its done, everyone is crying tears into their beers.
Gwyneth Paltrow is Kelly Canter, a Faith Hill type country superstar, except with a slew of public problems. While her troubles are all very adult, her demeanor is still that of a child. Paltrow plays Canter as a little girl, lost in a big world, who would much rather be tending to a baby bird she found in a field than performing in front of thousands of screaming fans. She isn’t sober for long once her husband checks her out of rehab, as it becomes painfully clear the public is not going to let her forget her own personal hardships. She loses herself in anything and everyone she can in order to avoid her own self, until that’s all she has left – and Paltrow’s got a mess of mascara on her face most of the time to prove it.
“Country Strong”, which also boasts a surprisingly strong supporting cast, culminates into a somewhat simplified commentary about celebrity and people as products. Feste pulls out every country punch she can think of, but lucky for her, Paltrow knows how to roll those punches into something real so that you too can have a silent sob in your beverage.
Review by Joseph Bélanger