sat 31/10/2020

Country Strong | reviews, news & interviews

Country Strong

Country Strong

Gwyneth Paltrow plucks at her guitar and audience heartstrings

She was not a coal-miner's daughter: Gwyneth Paltrow in 'Country Strong'

Hollywood stars are well known for bragging they do all their own stunts, often at the expense of the genuine daredevils who risk their lives on their behalf. With the advent of CGI and motion-capture technology, though, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make such an idle boast. What’s an icon to do to prove their mettle? The answer, it would seem, is to do all their own singing, even when they are patently ill-equipped to do so.

Hollywood stars are well known for bragging they do all their own stunts, often at the expense of the genuine daredevils who risk their lives on their behalf. With the advent of CGI and motion-capture technology, though, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make such an idle boast. What’s an icon to do to prove their mettle? The answer, it would seem, is to do all their own singing, even when they are patently ill-equipped to do so.

Gone are the days when Audrey Hepburn’s lips would part and Marni Nixon’s voice would waft out, as was notoriously heard to happen in My Fair Lady. Instead we get the actor’s own warblings, albeit with a Vocoder makeover and enough backing vocals to drown out a stampede.

Singers like Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera have endeavoured to redress the balance by taking dramatic roles themselves, most usually as performers, in films like The Bodyguard or the recent Burlesque. Given the choice between stars who sing and singers who act, however, audiences tend to opt for the former, though experience has shown both can be equally excruciating.

Gwyneth Paltrow has a better set of pipes than most, rendering her role as a depressed Nashville crooner in Country Strong a logical fit. Yet her stylings are not so stunning that they warrant the lengthy build-up they receive in Shana Feste’s film, the story of which entirely revolves around attempts to shake Paltrow’s Kelly Canter – a suicidal basket case driven to despair by the demise of her unborn child – out of her funk and back onto the stage where we are supposed to believe her character belongs.

Even by the lachrymose standards of this notoriously sentimental musical genre this is one weepy movie, its level of subtlety being handily summed up by the wounded bird (Metaphor Alert!) Gwyneth carries around in a wooden box. Yet it is not one without merit, Feste doing her best to paint the world Kelly inhabits in a truer light than other movies that have revelled in its corny clichés and garish excesses.

DF-03771Perhaps Feste’s wisest decision is to borrow her template from All About Eve, Canter being as threatened by rising hottie Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester, pictured right) as Bette Davis was by Anne Baxter. Age versus youth is a timeless conflict that works in any milieu, even in one where a lady’s personal confidence is denoted by the size of her hair and a Stetson-wearing lunk like Garrett Hedlund is considered the most desirable man on the luxury tour bus.

Country, like Broadway in All About Eve, is as much a business as a calling, with real-life music star Tim McGraw personifying its more venal side as Canter’s career-focused hubby. Yet Feste’s script deigns not to demonise him, suggesting instead his ruthless pursuit of Bible Belt success is motivated as much by grief as filthy lucre.

For all its maturity and sense of purpose, however, Country Strong comes up short in one crucial department: its songs. In tone they run the gamut from the croaky musings of Willie Nelson to the synthetic perkiness of Taylor Swift. In style, alas, they remain monotonously one-note, morphing into a bland and formless whole which leaves both the enthusiast and the uninitiated feeling short-changed.

In this regard it seems downright perverse for McGraw – the sole authentic presence – to be cast in a non-singing role throughout. Were the producers worried that he would show up his co-stars?

Watch the trailer for Country Strong

Even by the lachrymose standards of this notoriously sentimental musical genre this is one weepy movie

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