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Marshall Fine Headshot

Movie Review: Country Strong

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It's hard to remember a film that rises to the level of emotional and dramatic incoherence of Shana Feste's Country Strong.

You watch a movie like this and wonder: Didn't anyone actually read this script before they started shooting? (Yes, apparently: In the press notes, producer Jenno Topping claims that she "sobbed" after reading the script. Apparently that wasn't a tipoff.)

Here's a theory: Perhaps this was an avant-garde experiment in which the actors simply read the lines off a teleprompter as each scene was filmed. And they shot it all in reverse order, so no one could really focus on where they were in the story. Otherwise, you just have to assume that these people are just plain dumb.

It's a fascinatingly ridiculous film, one that seems to have little or no connection to the actual world - either the real world in which human beings interact, or the country-western-music world, where it supposedly is set. And yet it has actual stars in it: Gwyneth Paltrow, who still has an Oscar, and Leighton Meester, who undoubtedly never will. Just to mess with your mind, Tim McGraw, who actually is a denizen of the modern Nashville, shows up in a nonsinging role.

It's hard to know what to make of Feste, who wrote and directed the underseen and emotionally powerful The Greatest. She served in a similar capacity here. But everything about it - from the clumsy writing to the inept framing of images to the ham-handed editing - seems to be the work of someone else. Or perhaps her evil twin.

Garrett Hedlund, last seen doing digital battle in Tron: Legacy, seems to be the focus of the story, though Feste can't make up her mind just whose film this is. He plays Beau, a would-be country singer who regularly plays the Nashville bars and makes ends meet as an orderly at a local (and exceptionally glitzy) rehab center.

There, he's befriended Kelly Canter (Paltrow), a country star who's finishing a stint to overcome the alcoholism that nearly derailed her career. But her husband and manager is James Canter (McGraw), whose name is spoken with such reverence that he's obviously the modern-day equivalent of Col. Tom Parker - or, perhaps, Dick Cheney.

James shows up at the glitzy rehab facility in the midst of a warm scene between Beau and Kelly, to announce that he's got a doctor ready to spring her from rehab (a month early!) so she can go back out on the road to prove she's cured from all that messiness that landed her in drydock. (She apparently was so drunk that she fell off a stage in Dallas, causing a miscarriage that ended her five-month pregnancy).

There are several things that are hinky in this scene.

Click here: This review continues on my website.