The elements were all there. It was virtually brimming with possibility. But Country Strong just couldn’t hit the right notes.
I like Gwyneth Paltrow. Not personally, mind you — we’ve never spoken. But her past work is largely very solid, and with a significant range. A career that goes from Sylvia and The Royal Tenenbaums to Iron Man and Austin Powers is impressive.
And doing a project that requires her not only to sing, but to do it early, often, and well, is a risk. And she does well, vocally. But there’s a passion missing. Some of that may be character-driven (her character is a Grammy-award-winning country artist whose heart isn’t really in it anymore), but there are points in the story where the passion is supposed to run high, and it barely registers above a mild pulse elevation.
Before seeing his last film performance (in The Blind Side), I though the idea of Tim McGraw as an actor was scoff-worthy. But in that performance, he held his own capably, although there wasn’t too much to do, given Sandra Bullock’s filling of every frame she inhabited. So in this movie, I had higher expectations, looking forward to a more nuanced portrayal and character evolution.
But sadly, it wasn’t really there. I’m not convinced it was McGraw’s fault, though. His character wasn’t given that much to do, emotionally. Detached-stoicism-cum-faded-passion is a theme of the movie, apparently, and he did that consistently and well. In this case, maybe it was enough.
Supporting cast was good — if Garrett Hedlund needed another breakout performance to add to his reel in a year where he also was key in Tron:Legacy, this is it. It’s quite a flip-side from the frenetic, agitated son in Tron to be the more tranquil singer-songwriter here. Leighton Meester also turned in an adequate performance.
But the fundamental weakness of the writing just couldn’t be overcome by any of the actors. Some sequences didn’t ring true at all, while others just were, in Randy Jackson parlance, “pitchy.”
This could have been a story as dramatic and engaging as Walk the Line or Ray — triumph, tragedy, redemption with a 20th-century soundtrack. Unfortunately, it ended up more like a TV-movie made for the CMT cable network.