There are unexpected similarities between country and metal fans—okay, really just one: Each faction tends to harbor people of a--let’s just say it--lower IQ and income bracket. Even so, listeners of country are surprisingly more in touch with the agonies of life than those of metal. Although the screaming and decibel levels of metal would have you believe otherwise, country is by far the superior genre when it comes to coping with the soap operatic nature of attraction. Country Strong, the second film by writer-director Shana Feste (her first being 2009’s well-received The Greatest with Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan), is a strong indication of just how non-stereotypical the depictions of life as a country star can be. For all intents and purposes, being a melodramatic, alcoholic, libidinous trainwreck are some of the basic prerequisites for the job.
Gwyneth Paltrow does not necessarily fit this bromidic bill, if you exclude the names of her children, but she has always had the voice (both in terms of singing and her faint southern twang) to pull off the role of a fallen country star. With Tim McGraw amid the cast members, presumably to legitimize the fact that everyone else in the movie is more liable to be found dancing to the latest factory-churned pop song, one would suspect that Country Strong was doomed to be stale and prosaic from the get-go.
But that is not the assumption that makes Country Strong feel more like a VH1 movie about an amalgam of self-destructive icons ranging from Elvis to Michael Jackson. It's the length, the forced depth that renders every character, from Garrett Hedlund's Beau Hutton to Leighton Meester's Chiles Stanton (really, that's a name?), completely two-dimensional, and the boredom of watching Kelly Canter repeatedly fuck up her road to redemption.
The movie isn't a total waste of your 13 to 15 dollars (or, if you live in the Midwest, where Country Strong is probably hoping to get most of its revenue, more like 9 to 10 dollars) though. There are actually some fairly choice moments that you would probably only notice if you were as obsessed with watching the extras in the backgrounds of movies as I am. Like during the scene where Chiles and Beau first perform together in some random honky tonk and there's a Latino guy with rhinestone earrings dancing awkwardly in the crowd near the bar. You can also find amusement in certain plot incongruities. Like why the fuck would Kelly Canton be on tour while she was five months pregnant instead of on bed rest? Even Madonna wouldn't pull shit like that.
In spite of the predictable emotional rollercoaster, there is one unexpected event toward the film's final minutes that I will leave you, with bated breath, wondering about. As for whether or not the love triangle between Kelly, Chiles, and Beau resolves itself in favor of the "older model," well, I'm sure that, country fan or not, you're smart enough to figure that one out.