Both Season of the Witch and Country Strong were opening at the local cine-plex on Friday the 7th. Should I go see a film about a 14th century witch or a 21st Century country singer? Medieval mayhem or country music? Did I want to feel scared or feel good? Well it wasn’t that difficult of a decision to have to make.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Kelly Canter – the country singer. While she does her own crooning – her voice is pretty darned good as is some of the music, the story seems old and familiar. Once you’ve attained stardom in country music, you’re on a road faced with some choices; diminished ability due to drinks or drugs, followed by death or divorce… or rehab and redemption. For sure, this doesn’t happen to everyone in the real world of the music industry, but nearly always happens in the movies about the music industry.
Directed by Shana Feste, this is the latest iteration of the genre (the troubled singer/musician) that goes all the way back to the original A Star is Born from the 30’s with the Judy Garland remake in the 50’s and the Barbra Streisand remake in the 70’s, The Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sweet Dreams, Tender Mercies, and as recently as last year – Crazy Heart. Someone is always getting knocked down but not out. They go through a rehab, then they go back out on tour to the delirious delight of their fans. But even if these stories have become trite, or a cliché, or just some hackneyed tripe, you can still enjoy the music, and then enjoy the redemption second-hand. If the characters are well written, then you might even have a hit on your hands.
But Country Strong is all surface and sheen. Despite the toe-tapping music we can’t quite get our hearts and minds around Gwyneth Paltrow’s Kelly Canter. She goes into rehab after a disastrous and drunken on-stage melt-down that results in a miscarriage. Her husband James Canter is played by real life country music star Tim McGraw who doesn’t sing a note in the whole film.
Off to the right and left of these two are Beau Hutton played by Garrett Hedlund, who is also currently playing at your cine-plex in Tron Legacy, and the young songstress Chiles Stanton played by Leighton Meester. Beau is one of the caregivers at the rehab center who also is a singer/songwriter, and Chiles is the young singing protegé and beauty queen discovered by James.
You can easily see where this film will go. Romantic complications and their multiple permutations seem to occur in these kind of films just as often as a musician’s tour bus rounds a curve on a highway.
The film’s tagline tells all – It doesn’t matter where you’ve been as long as you come back strong.
The film’s visuals are pretty good – so watching this film is not simply gloom and doom followed by redemption and a successful return to the stage. You can bring your hankies because you will need them, but you will not be surprised by anything you see in this film except for the fact that some of the situations, meant to be moving and important, are really closer to laughable and ludicrous. The characters as written are just too thin for us to care much about them. Or believe in them.
Chiles: Look at Kelly – Beau: She’s puttin’ on a show
At one point, Kelly says, Don’t be afraid to fall in love. It’s the only thing that matters in life.
Sorry, sweetie. You forgot one. Having a good script is what always matters in the film-making biz.