Gwyneth Paltrow is the main focus of Country Strong but it is young Garrett Hedlund who is the breakout star. Paltrow is very good as the booze and pill addicted country singer and Tim McGraw and Leighton Meester give her able support, but Hedlund steals the show as the up and coming singer in the film.
Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a reigning queen of country music who has fallen on hard times. As the film opens she is in rehab trying to get her life back together after drunkenly falling off the stage in Dallas and suffering a miscarriage. At the rehab center one of her strongest supporters, and love partner, is Beau Hutton (Hedlund).
Kelly's husband/manager James (McGraw) decides it is time for Kelly to leave rehab and get back on the road. She hasn't finished her prescribed stay but he takes her out anyway, over Beau's objections that she isn't ready. As a compromise of sorts James offers Beau the job of looking after Kelly on the road and also being her opening act, along with Chiles Stanton (Meester), a beauty queen singer James has discovered. And off they go.
Paltrow really gets into her role as Kelly and gives her the fragility the character deserves. She also gives her a surprisingly good singing voice. Kelly comes to life on the stage and Paltrow appears to be having a good time too. This is a different kind of role for her but she manages to bring all facets of the character to life.
It is a shame to have McGraw in a musical and not have him sing but this part doesn't call for any musical numbers from him. James Canter is a conflicted man. He honestly does love Kelly, or at least used to, but now her addictions and her actions are driving them apart. McGraw lets us get a glimpse of the love they once shared.
Hedlund has a terrific country voice and an appealing swagger when Beau is on stage. Beau is the hero of the film but he too is flawed. Hedlund makes us overlook those flaws and go with the essence of the man. People who see this film will leave talking about Hedlund.
The fourth member of the cast is Meester and she has the porcelain skin and the pretty voice that makes Chiles a contender, and possibly a threat to Kelly. Meester plays the role for all it is worth but unfortunately it is the weakest written of the four.
The movie is rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual situations.
Country music fans will eat up this film as it shows their side of life. Paltrow is a believable country queen and having super country star McGraw in the movie is icing on the cake. They will also warm to Hedlund's Beau and could just hand him acceptance as a country singer.
For an easy to like but interesting film, with some music thrown in for good measure, go see Country Strong. It is pure entertainment all the way.
I scored Country Strong a twangy 7 out of 10.
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