Take all the preconceptions you have about how bad Gwyneth Paltrow’s Country Strong is and multiply them by 6. Now divide them by 4, multiply them by π, add 100, subtract 2 and divide by 4. Now, write that number down on a piece of glossy resume paper. Take that piece of paper, lift it up to your lips, and slice it deeply into the corners of your mouth. Now, take a bottle of Tabasco sauce and break it open by smashing it into your jaw. Afterwards, gnaw your arm off at the elbow with the jagged remains of your teeth.
How bad did that hurt?
That’s how bad Country Strong is.
Even dismissing my own objections with a Californian faux-Brit playing a Southern country singer, Gwyneth Paltrow still manages to turn in the most hideously embarrassing performances of her career. It makes her turn in Shakespeare in Love look like Shakespeare. It’s a goddamn affront to train wrecks. The performance is akin to a drunken Courtney Love doing an impersonation of Gwyneth Paltrow with a bad Southern accent. It’s hard to decide whether Paltrow deserves some sort of Lifetime Achievement Razzie for this performance, or whether the The Golden Rasberrys should just go ahead and change their name to The Golden Gwyneths.
You could dig yourself to Australia with a tiny garden shovel, and you couldn’t lower your expectations enough for what comes at the end of this movie. Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Kelly Canter, takes a bottle of pills and kills herself. Yes. Literally. She commits fucking suicide. Could you have ever predicted that from the trailer?
But that’s how bad Country Strong is. And if the only other reason you might have for watching Country Strong is to watch Paltrow embarrass herself onstage, there’s hardly any point. She sings only two songs, both at the tail end of the film, and if you’ve seen the video for Country Strong and watched this clip, you’ve seen the performances in their entirety (in fact, both performances are edited down in the movie). That’s it. Seventy-five percent of the rest of Paltrow’s screen time consists of her shedding mascara and bawling like Tammy Fay Baker (RIP) at a bankruptcy proceeding.
It’s obvious that Paltrow’s character in Country Strong was meant to be a supporting one, providing a backdrop to the main love story between Beau Hutton (Garret Hedlund) and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), two up-and-coming country singers who are chosen to support Paltrow’s Canter in her first three-city tour following her release from rehab. Beau is chosen as an opener because, as an orderly in the rehab, he was fucking Canter, and Stanton is chosen because Canter’s husband, James (Tim McGraw) may or may not have had a crush on her. Paltrow’s part must have been dramatically expanded once she signed on to accommodate the awesome star power of the GOOP lady, and in shifting the focus to Paltrow, the main narrative takes a backseat to a hot Gwyneth mess.
And man, what a mess she is. Gwyneth’s not a very convincing drunk, but she does a mean impersonation of a shit-faced actress attempting to play a shit-faced country singer, method acting taken to the shit-face extreme. She’s smitten with Beau; in love with her detached husband; and jealous of Chiles, who pageant-girl sashays her way into Beau’s heart, leaving Kelly as the odd one out with one final performance. And as surprised as you might be by the suicide going in, within half an hour, the only thing that prevents you from completely predicting it is the outright preposterousness.
Still, you wouldn’t know it from the marketing, but Country Strong is actually Garret Hedlund’s movie, about how his experience with the perpetually wasted Canter helps him to realize that fame and love cannot co-exist. It’s a shame that Hedlund is given little more than bad, whiskey-tinged country-song lyrics disguised as dialogue with which to work because the man has presence and a voice capable of buckling knees. Put him, Tim Riggins, and Colin Farrel’s character from Crazy Heart on the same stage, and there are thousands of Southern women who would spontaneously conceive daughters already pregnant with their own children. That is to say, given the right material, there’s definite man crush potential here.
Country Strong, however, is not that material. It’s exactly the kind of movie that would use a momma-less baby bird as a mawkish ill-formed metaphor and that would write itself into a corner in which suicide is the only answer. Twenty minutes into Country Strong and you may realize it’s your only answer, too.