Just about the easiest thing to do is create melodrama out of country music. It's built right into the songs. Breaking hearts, lost families and wounded pride are about as common to the genre as the soft crying twang of a steel guitar. In Country Strong (Sony, 2011), which was just released on DVD earlier this week, writer/director Shana Feste (The Greatest) tells a typical story of the price of love and fame in the world of country music, but she distills the melodrama of its tabloid fascination. Feste instead develops an openly relaxed approach to the material which brings us closer to the essence of the music and how its stars cope with the cynicism of the industry.
|Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly Canter.|
The movie begins as country star Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is recovering in a rehab clinic from alcohol abuse which led to her falling off stage during a show in Texas and having a miscarriage. While drying out, she is being cared for by Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), a country singer who wants no part of stardom. But he loves both her and her music, which leads to them carrying on an affair. Her husband, James Canter (Tim McGraw), meanwhile wants her out of rehab so that she can pick up her career. So he books her into a three-show tour which includes an opening act featuring both Beau and a young, aspiring singer, Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester). The tour not only unravels Kelly's own demons (including the dissolution of her pained marriage), but also the end of her affair with Beau who becomes romantically drawn to Chiles, the talented ingénue who hasn't yet been corrupted by the industry.