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Country Strong: movie review

In 'Country Strong,' Gwyneth Paltrow charts the fall and shaky rise of a Faith Hill-style singer.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / January 7, 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow (l.) and Tim McGraw are shown in a scene from 'Country Strong.'

Scott Garfield/Sony-Screen Gems/AP

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What would country-music movies be without heartbreak? From "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Sweet Dreams" right up through "Crazy Heart," the genre is awash in acid tears.

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"Country Strong" is the latest and, in many ways, the least impressive entrant in the achy-breaky sweepstakes. It stars Gwyneth Paltrow as superstar Kelly Canter, a Faith Hill-style singer whom we first encounter drying out in rehab. Paltrow doesn't make many movies these days, so the question is: Why this one?

The answer is obvious. This is an Oscar-size role she can really sink her teeth into. The bigness of the role, however, doesn't match its middling execution. Paltrow isn't bad – she even does her own singing – but writer-director Shana Feste hasn't done much to rehabilitate a very tired conception. (As an example of how to do it right, check out "Nashville," with Ronee Blakley's classic performance as a rehabbed wreck of a star, or "Payday," with Rip Torn.)

It's not enough to see a legend at the end of her tether. We have to see why she was a legend to begin with. Alas, this only happens in Kelly's very first scene. Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), a talented singer-songwriter who also works at the rehab facility, plays her a new song on his guitar. She smiles moonily at him – it turns out they are also lovers – and then on the spot composes an improved lyric. Instantly we see how good she is and how much this music still means to her.

Soon she is prematurely plucked from rehab by her husband-manager James (country star Tim McGraw, who does no singing in the film). With Beau accompanying her on her comeback tour as a combination opening act and traveling companion, James holds out the hope that Kelly can revive her career and deep-six her demons. He must not have seen very many country movies over the years.

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