Friday, January 21, 2011

Higgens Network: Country Strong

I’m not a big music guy. There are a few bands I like and listen to regularly, but for the most part I find new music through movies. Usually it’s just the random song that is incorporated well, but when music is a big part of the movie the stakes are different. The movie’s quality can be judged on whether or not I pick up the soundtrack the next day. These songs have extra weight to them because they are tied into the emotions of the characters. The soundtrack of Once is not just a collection of sweet songs, but reminders about the relationship of the lead couple.

I will never buy the soundtrack for Country Strong.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t listen to much country, because I was still sold on Crazy Heart’s songs. I cared about Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake and his songs really reflected his current state of life and his struggles. With Country Strong there are no characters to be interested in. There are four people running around, having affairs, talking about music, and singing in an incredibly boring fashion.

Gwyneth Paltrow is Kelly Canter, a famous country singer who is getting out of rehap. She’s having an affair with her sponsor Beau, played by TRON Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund. Kelly’s husband (Tim McGraw) wants to put Kelly back on the stage and wants Beau and a hot new star (Leighton Meester) to open for her.

There is great potential for this redemption plotline but everything is so muddy. Writer/director Shana Feste previous made The Greatest a movie that was almost good. This is almost decent. Especially at the beginning of this film, every character is incredibly two-dimensional, almost embarrassingly so. None of their relationships or motivations gel together into something realistic.

For example Beau doesn’t want to leave his happy bar performances because he thinks you can’t mix love and fame. Also if you become famous you only have to play the songs they want. However when he’s on the road, he’s beloved by everyone and he gets to play the songs he wants. He still sputters about the bad aspects even though none of that is seen throughout the film.

Feste has a habit of doing things for the payoff, even when the set-up doesn’t make sense. There are certain lines of dialog that don’t really work but part of them sound nice. The plot operates in the same way. She wants this ending, but doesn’t know how to naturally get to that point. Having the characters blankly looking at each other is NOT character development. Especially when this feels like 80% of your film. (Sometimes the camera even zooms in!)

It is a weird world when Get Him to the Greek is tackling similar material with more understanding. Both movies have their addict heroes making their way to the “big show” and that is the scene where everything matters. They even start their sets in the same way. However when the lights open on Russell Brand and he belts his lyric, there is such a mixture of sadness and relief for him. When Paltrow sang, it was nothing.

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