Unintentionally hilarious, “Country Strong” is a wannabe rehash of “Crazy Heart,” “Walk the Line,” and “Dreamgirls.” It’s ridiculously melodramatic and populated with four stock characters who go through alarmingly little growth throughout the movie. With no reason to care, it’s easy to kick back and enjoy some surprisingly classy country music. That means there’s none of that soulless pop-country blend that Taylor Swift has pushed into the mainstream; it’s the country music you’ll hear in the saloons and bars in the heart of America.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Kelly Canter plays a shamed superstar country singer pulled out of rehab early by her demanding husband and manager James, played by Tim McGraw. Neither are in love with each other anymore, as Kelly has her eye on small-time singer Beau (Garrett Hedlund) and James goes after the much younger Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a beauty queen turned country-pop star who seems to be a Taylor Swift parody in herself. As you can imagine, the two upstart country singers Beau and Chiles, whose relationship begins rocky, ultimately find each other in love.
I’m not going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the humor; I assume it was really poorly made and acted. Denim-clad Paltrow is pretty dreadful when it comes to playing the rehabbing drunk apparently based on Britney Spears, tripping over cliches just like the movie itself. She could have taken a few notes from Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married,” who totally nailed the confusion and disillusionment of the not-quite-rehabbed woman. McGraw is fine playing a tough guy, and Hedlund feels natural on stage and behind the mic. Leighton Meester, on the other hand, is comedic dynamite – which is probably attributable to her sub-par acting skills. Funny, I thought she would have really picked up some great technique on “Gossip Girl.”
As long as you aren’t looking for a story or acting, you’ll enjoy the first hour and a half of “Country Strong.” It’s corny, campy fun in country style. But beware of the world’s worst ending, so bungled and poorly written that it derails the entire experience and leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth at the end. It’s almost like in an effort to avoid predictability, they chose the most bizarre ending even though it didn’t fit with the movie’s tone or events. So, in order to get the optimal experience out of a crummy movie, stop watching “Country Strong” after Kelly’s big concert in Dallas. Make your own ending to the movie and just be satisfied with the dumb melodrama. C /