COUNTRY STRONG is all over the place. Sometimes it celebrates life, love and music; at other points, it just leaves a joyless taste of lust, depression and faithlessness. In sum, the spirit of the country music and the acting is strong, but the meat of the story and the characters is weak. The character motivations, in fact, seem very unclear.
The movie opens with James, the husband of country music star Kelly Canter, getting his wife released early from alcohol rehab. He does this against the objections of her “sponsor” and secret lover, Beau Hutton, a budding country music artist himself.
James wants to hire beauty queen Chiles Stanton to be the opening act for his wife in her new tour, but Chiles has a bad case of stage fright. Beau tries, however, to help her get over it, so James hires them both for the tour. He also wants Beau to help make sure Kelly stays away from the alcohol endangering her red-hot career and ruining her marriage.
As the barely rehabbed Kelly stumbles along, the real reason for her suicidal depression and reliance on alcohol comes out. Then, Beau starts falling for Chiles, which seems to make things worse for Kelly. Can she recover in time for the big show planned for Dallas, where her last really big alcohol-soaked performance drove her into rehab in the first place?
The main message of COUNTRY STRONG is that fame and love can’t really co-exist at all. The movie’s definition of love is a Romantic one, however, not a Christian, biblical definition centered on Jesus Christ. Also, the movie’s definition of art, in this case country music, is also Romantic.
Thus, the movie, especially Beau, who’s the actual hero, says that true artists are supposed to completely shun the limelight, even if their art is beautiful enough to draw huge, happy crowds of cheering fans. Also, the movie seems to say that people in love, who may or may not get married, always should be completely focused on each other in an emotional, mindless, amoral psychological way.
Making matters worse is that Kelly keeps getting depressed and alcoholic in the story. Also, her husband keeps withdrawing from her, even when it looks like they could heal their relationship and renew their love. Eventually [spoiler alert], this troubled couple cannot overcome their past, which includes the accidental death of an unborn daughter. On the other hand, [spoiler alert] it looks like Chiles may get over her lust for fame so she can be with Beau, who wants to withdraw from the big country crowds and does. Thus, the movie is sometimes depressing and sometimes happy, though often not happy in a way that would make anyone want to cheer. Only when someone sings does the movie seem to soar.
Of course, all this doesn’t make for a convincing or satisfying whole, despite some great singing, music, acting, and lyrics. Also, despite the excellent country music featured, COUNTRY STRONG provides a very jaundiced view of that industry, with very little of the patriotism and Christian worship that has come to symbolize a major part of it. In fact, broken marriages, promiscuity, adultery, and suicide are big topics throughout COUNTRY STRONG, but there are no truly redemptive conclusions reached about these topics. And, the positive title song, sung very well by Gwyneth Paltrow, is completely denied and undercut by the ending of her character’s story. The fact that viewers don’t get to really hear how well her character can sing until the end also undercuts the plot, not to mention viewer sympathy for the movie’s biggest star.
All in all, therefore, although COUNTRY STRONG may be right to question the desire for fame and celebrity and features some excellent acting and music, its very bittersweet ending, immoral content, Romantic delusions, and foul language make for a confused, unsatisfying, ultimately incoherent time at the movies. Skip the movie and buy the soundtrack instead.
(RoRoRo, B, P, Cap, C, AbAb, LLL, V, SS, NN, AAA, DD, MMM) Very strong Romantic worldview with very light moral, very light patriotic, very light capitalist, and very light Christian elements that practically don’t amount to anything solid at all, plus strong anti-moral elements that may anger country music fans include sexual immorality and woman mentions Jesus but it is implied she is just currying favor with others; about 42 obscenities (no “f” words), eight strong profanities and seven light profanities; light violence includes man punches rival, suicide off screen, attempted suicide off screen, man busts down door, and man drags drunken woman out of bar; strong sexual content includes adulterous kiss, implied adulterous sex, implied fornication, man walks in on married girlfriend with a third man, unmarried couple in underwear kiss passionately, suggestive dancing, joke encourages unmarried couple to sleep together; women in skimpy somewhat revealing underwear, female cleavage and upper male nudity; much alcohol use, lead woman is alcoholic, scenes of drunkenness, and story is partly about failing alcohol rehab; smoking and woman takes pills with alcohol; and, cheating, lying, harassment, personal tragedy makes husband seemingly unwilling to reconcile emotionally with his troubled alcoholic wife, promises broken, lust for fame and celebrity but partially rebuked, jealousy, music promoter uses his power to sleep with troubled married celebrity under contract to him, bar patrons take advantage of drunk troubled woman to encourage her to keep dancing suggestively on bar counter, and miscellaneous negative attitudes.
COUNTRY STRONG tells the story of a country music star who’s trying to overcome personal problems endangering her marriage and her life. James, the husband of singing sensation Kelly Canter, pulls his wife out of alcohol rehab early to do a recovery tour. Their marriage is in disarray because of personal tragedy. Also, Kelly has been cheating on James with Beau, the star of one of her two opening acts. As the barely rehabbed Kelly stumbles along, the real reason for her suicidal depression and reliance on alcohol comes out. Things get worse for Kelly. Can she recover in time for the big show in Dallas?
COUNTRY STRONG’s main message is that fame and love can’t co-exist. The movie’s definition of love is Romantic and emotional, however, not a biblical definition centered on Jesus Christ. The movie’s definition of art, in this case country music, is also Romantic. Ultimately, despite some great acting and music, the movie is overwhelmed with a very bittersweet ending, immoral content, Romantic delusions, and plenty of foul language. This makes for a confused, unsatisfying time at the movies. People will want to buy the soundtrack instead.