AWFJ Women On Film – “Country Strong” – Review by Susan Granger

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About this time last year, audiences were impressed by Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of a troubled, alcoholic country music singer in “Crazy Heart,” but Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t pack much of a wallop in what seems to be a female twist on a similar story.

Self-destructive Kelly Canter (Paltrow) is a successful Nashville star but she’s just out of rehab and emotionally unstable. Married to her manager, James (real-life country superstar Tim McGraw, memorable from “The Blind Side”), she becomes involved in a romantic relationship with singer/songwriter Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund of “TRON: Legacy”), whom James has hired to be her opening act for a Texas comeback tour of Austin, Houston and Dallas, where several months earlier, Kelly took a tipsy tumble and suffered a miscarriage meltdown. To complicate matters, she’s resentful of sensitive James’ interest in up-and-coming crooner Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester of “Gossip Girl”), a sassy, wide-eyed former beauty queen. Sob. Choke. Suffer. Sing. Sob. Choke. Suffer. Sing.

Between her incessant blogging sessions, Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow has obviously become obsessed by singing; she’s warbled before in “Duets” and “Infamous” and on “Glee,” recently performing at the Country Music Awards with Vince Gill. So, channeling her inner Patsy Klein via “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” she launches forth on this vanity project, guitar-in-hand, vulnerability at the surface, keeping in mind, as James says, “Just because something’s on the radio doesn’t mean it’s good.”

Formulaically written and earnestly directed by Shana Feste (“The Greatest”) with a heavily melodramatic emphasis, it’s a sudsy, down-home, generic soap opera with far too many contrived coincidences. In interviews, Feste acknowledges that the meandering story was inspired by boozy Britney Spears’ fame/media woes, yet it also seems to run parallel to the troubles that have beset Mindy McCrea. Tragically, Gwyneth Paltrow’s late father, Bruce, was first-cousin to Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ father and, amid her publicity tour, Paltrow extended her sympathy to the Giffords family.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Country Strong” is a clichéd, corny 6. Concentrate on Michael Brook’s standard-heavy soundtrack, supervised by Randall Poster.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.