Country Strong is a mess of a film. Most of the performances are fine and the songs, even if it is country which I normally don’t like, are catchy but the story doesn’t resonate and the characters, at least two of them, aren’t just very likeable. The video and audio transfers are good and while there are several features, they don’t amount to much except the basics.
Genre(s): Drama, Music
Sony | PG13 – 117 min. – $34.95 | April 12, 2011
Directed by: Shana Feste
Writer(s): Shana Feste (written by)
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester
Theatrical Release Date: December 22, 2010
Features: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Videos, BD-Live
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (DTS-HD MA 5.1), Portuguese (DTS-HD MA 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 2/5
Shana Feste’s music-drama Country Strong is just her second feature-length film after 2009’s The Greatest with a good cast including Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan and now with an equally impressive cast, this country music drama is overwrought with melodramatic scenes centered on an unsympathetic character.
Gwyneth Paltrow stars as country music star Kelly Canter, a troubled woman who when the movie starts is in rehab after an “incident” a concert in Dallas. We won’t find out what exactly transpires until a key moment in the third act but it fails to have the impact I’m sure Feste was after. In any case, at this rehab center we are introduced to Beau Hutton (GARRETT HEDLUND), a country music singer on the rise who also works at the center and is carrying on an affair with Mrs. Canter. After a quant but nice little scene between Kelly and Beau singing back and forth, her husband, James Canter (TIM MCGRAW), arrives as she’s decided to checkout even though Beau believes it might be too soon. She leaves rehab amidst camera flashes as she’s set to go back on tour in the state of Texas for a comeback of sorts.
Meanwhile, James reveals that he’s discovered a raw talent in the beautiful Chiles Stanton (LEIGHTON MEESTER) who will open Kelly’s concerts but when Chiles freezes on stage for at a smaller venue for which Beau, who was also playing, jumps in and saves her. So James, with the insistence of Kelly, invites Beau on the tour as well and now the dysfunctional nucleus is complete.
After the first two concerts end in disaster due to breakdowns by Kelly, it’s clear that her comeback was too soon as the love quadrilateral between Kelly, Beau, James and Chiles becomes intense with Beau trying to distance himself from Kelly for her own good while actively flirting, both on stage and off, with Chiles and James dealing with his intense relationship with Kelly while yearning for the much younger Chiles. And it’s not that Kelly isn’t getting any as she starts popping pills and carrying on with the tour sponsor. Yep, this is just a delightful film with characters you can either root for or care about!
That’s my main gripe with Country Strong. Going in I thought I would dislike the movie because of the country music, a genre I generally hate but the music, which is more country-pop, was actually pretty decent. However, where the film falls apart is due to a story I couldn’t care less about and characters that were either unlikeable or merely lukewarm towards.
Let’s begin with the film’s star, Gwyneth Paltrow. Now there’s no doubt she’s talented both as an actress and as a singer as she actually delivers an OK performance in both categories but at the same time, the character was not well written and I had a difficult time finding any sort of sympathy for her. Later on they try find some redemption for her with a Make-A-Wish scene where she brings laughter to a child stricken with cancer (initially the event was for damage control but she ultimately decided to do it on her own), but the scene hardly makes up for the rest that is wrong with the character.
The other issue I had was that it’s never a good thing when one has more interest in the stories of the supporting characters. In this case I would’ve probably enjoyed the movie more if it focused entirely on the rising stardom of two country singers who initially hate one another before falling in love. Sure, it would’ve followed the old romantic comedy blueprint, but it would’ve been a hell lot more involving and entertaining than what we got instead.
All in all, maybe Country Strong had a good idea at its core and the performances aren’t all bad, but it doesn’t come together in a cohesive way and it doesn’t help matters when the main character isn’t very sympathetic tied all together with a finale which is as melodramatic as anything you’ll hear in an old-time country song…
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.5/5
Deleted Scenes (4:30; SD) – Here we get four scenes that don’t amount to much. A couple of them provide some background on Beau.
“Shake That Thing” Extended Performance (4:01; SD) – See a longer cut of the song. Oddly enough this is in standard def and letterboxed widescreen.
Original Ending (2:52; SD) – As if the original one wasn’t bad enough, this original ending cuts a bit shorter and makes the film worse. Once again, presented in letterboxed widescreen.
Friends in High Places: The Cast of Country Strong (14:03; HD) – This featurette shows off the cast and gets their thoughts, and the thoughts of various members of the crew, on the film. It shows some BTS footage mixed in with scenes from the movie. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Putting the Words in Their Mouths: The Songwriters (8:51; HD) – In this featurette takes a look at the songs used in the film and how they were written by the numerous writers that worked for each character. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
A Little Bit Country: The Costumes (6:45; HD) takes a look at the costume designs used and how it helps round out the characters. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Next we get Music Videos (TRT 8:43; HD) for “Country Strong” by Gwyneth Paltrow and “A Little Bit Stronger” by Sara Evans.
movieIQ is the standard feature on Sony titles where you can check out trivia while watching the movie. As I’ve said numerous times, I don’t find much use for this especially since it takes a bit some time to even load and when it is, the information isn’t all that interesting. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
BD-Live portal is available for you to check out clips and trailers for Sony titles. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Previews (HD) – How Do You Know, Burlesque, Soul Surfer and The Tourist
VIDEO – 4.25/5
Country Strong is presented in its original 2.40 aspect ratio and in 1080p high definition. The picture isn’t anything amazing but there is a consistent amount of natural film grain and noise throughout and the detail level is pretty good especially on foreground people or objects.
AUDIO – 4.25/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is good showing off the variety of country songs sung throughout providing depth to the soundtrack. Dialogue is also crisp, clear and easy to understand. Again, it’s not a track that stands out but it’s on par with most recent Blu-ray releases.
OVERALL – 2.25/5
Overall, Country Strong is a mess of a film. Most of the performances are fine and the songs, even if it is country which I normally don’t like, are catchy but the story doesn’t resonate and the characters, at least two of them, aren’t just very likeable. The video and audio transfers are good and while there are several features, they don’t amount to much except the basics.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2.