January is an evil month. Exhibit A: Obnoxious cold fronts. Exhibit B: Totally inconvenient amounts of mountain cedar. Exhibit C: By now, the 2011 New Year’s high has worn off (How are your resolutions going? … That bad, huh?) with no holidays to look forward to but Valentine’s Day — which everyone knows is a totally bogus one. And for the next 19 days, there is no escape — not even the usually warm, comforting womb of your favorite movie theater. January is the barren wasteland where film studios dump their garbage. Which brings me to Exhibit D: Country Strong.
It might be unfair to judge Country Strong against other movies, because while it looks like a movie (and even often sounds like one), it’s actually a collection of clichés so tired they wouldn’t surprise a second grader. There’s the damaged country legend on a comeback tour (Paltrow, woefully miscast and completely unbelievable as a wrecked, fading star); her distant husband/manager (McGraw, who completely wastes his country cred and thinks growing a beard is “acting”); the guitar-slinging young buck caught between them (Hedlund, whose primary direction must have been, “Try it again, but skeevier this time”); and the Taylor Swift-ian country-pop princess nipping at Paltrow’s career (Meester, who is all lip gloss, eyelashes, and whatever the opposite of charming is). These characters are as thinly drawn as a Nashville edition of the board game Guess Who?, and not a single one of them is worth rooting for. I’m not even entirely sure who the main character is supposed to be. I don’t think writer-director Shana Feste knew either.
Surprisingly, the one area where Country Strong doesn’t completely fail is the soundtrack. Indiscriminating fans of contemporary country music will probably find at least one song they can tolerate (and maybe even like), despite Paltrow’s consistently thin vocal performances and some of the most obvious fake-guitar playing since Marty McFly crashed the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance (courtesy of Hedlund).
Even though most of the songs range from generic to instantly forgettable, I was relieved to discover that if a character was singing they were too busy to deliver any more god-awful dialogue (“Don’t be afraid to fall in love. It’s the only thing that matters in this world. The only thing.” Barf.). Mysteriously, someone hired country megastar McGraw to be in a movie but decided to not let him sing.
If you haven’t seen Black Swan or True Grit yet (or Green Hornet, apparently), you have no excuse to watch this film. Country Strong is yet another dull, rusty weapon in January’s hateful arsenal. Don’t let it stick you.