Music Imitates Life
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RANT: Wanted to go see Country Strong, but needed to go to a different Regal theater much farther away from the house. I ended up at the outlet mall in Deer Park at a Regal theater with an IMAX theater. I asked the ticket taker if the IMAX was a true IMAX or an "IMAX Experience". He was unsure, but I was able to peek inside the theater. It was not a 6-story screen, but the sound system was definitely rocking!
SYNOPSIS: A drama focusing on the multi-city comeback tour of a country superstar after a stint in rehab, her husband/manager, and two up-and-coming acts trying to break it big in the business.
Reminding me of Robert Altman's Nashville, Loretta Lynn's biopic Coal Miner's Daughter and Jeff Bridges oscar-worthy Crazy Heart, Country Strong dramatizes the glamorous glitz and urban under belly of life on the road for a multi-Grammy winner legendary country artist trying to make a comeback after alcohol destroyed her performance in Dallas and her relationship with her husband/manager.
Following Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) on her last day in rehab , her husband James pushes her to get back on the road to soon with a 3-city "encore" tour to get the momentum back to Kelly's career. Added to the tour bill per Kelly's request is young honky-tonk bar performer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund from Tron: Legacy) and Kelly's sometime lover. As manager, James adds Texas pageant queen and aspiring country pop star Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) to the lineup.
Each character has their own baggage. Kelly emerges from rehab much to early, still needing to deal with her alcoholism and the loss of her unborn baby after an intoxicated fall from stage in Dallas. James, once a loving husband, is now a controlling manager desperate to have Kelly reclaim her place as the country legend she is - all the while failing to deal with Kelly as a wife or the loss of their unborn baby. Beau has the heart of gold to accompany his singing and songwriting skills, sometimes unsure of how far he should go in the industry. And finally, Chiles, focuses on the lights and stardom of the country stage, unable to put into shadow her childhood insecurities from a seemingly too-perfect youth.
Paltrow, McGraw, Hedlund and Meester all shine brightly in their own right. McGraw is an old 10-gallon hat when it comes to the strong, southern gentleman. Paltrow excludes the southern charm, hospitality and singing chops that she certainly honed in order to get her role of Fox's Glee. And Hedlund and Meester look they were plucked right out of line at the Grand Ole Opry. One specific moment that made the film for me was Kelly's Make a Wish Foundation appearance at a school for a young student named Travis. The scene showcased Kelly's vulnerability and her love for her music. Some of the plot is paced and placed for convenience, Kelly's alcoholism, for example, allowed to ebb and flow based on the need of the character and story.
The real star of the movie, though, is the music. With originals and country standards, every note is pitch perfect for its tone and story. I am sure at least one will make its way into the Oscar race as a nominee. The music hearkened back to my youth where I helped my father work on the car in the neighbor's garage, listening to his favorite country blues in a backless knob radio.
I enjoyed the film for what it is. The ending was obvious, even though it seemed to be the only course that would make sense. The acting is good, the music is better and the realization that fame does not necessarily buy happiness or love is just a common truth.
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