Making the Grades
Despite the glitz and glamour of being in the spotlight, life as a performer isn’t always as good as it appears—especially when one’s career is threatened by addictions. Six-time Grammy-award winner and country-singing sensation Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) nosedived off the stage before a packed stadium in Dallas as the consequence of a pre-show alcohol binge. Following that, her career plummeted as she stumbled to get back on her feet.
While spending several months in rehabilitation at a quiet, gated facility, she meets Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund). He’s an aspiring singer-songwriter who croons to patrons at the local watering hole at night and works at the center during the day. Their common interest in music helps spawn a friendship between the two. But even from his uneducated position at work, he knows Kelly isn’t ready to leave rehab when her husband James (Tim McGraw) pulls her out early to go on tour.
Still feeling fragile and distant from her spouse, she insists that Beau come along and open for her. James has other plans. He intends to put Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) up on stage. The young beauty queen contestant is the new face of country music—a perky, pop-style singer who yearns to hear the applause of the crowd. Finally, James, determined to get his wife back in front of her fans, agrees to bring both young artists with them. However, he puts pressure on Beau to keep Kelly sober as the musicians head out for their first stop on a ten-city tour.
Once on the road, the demons that drove Kelly to the bottle continue to haunt her. And while most of her fans are eager to hear her sing again, some won’t forget what happened in Dallas. When she falters during her first outing, some critics are quick to decry her return. Soon the tour becomes more about damage control than hitting the high notes.
For audiences, there’s nothing subtle about this script by writer/director Shana Feste. Like the lyrics about an achy-breaky heart in a classic country ballad, it seems every character is wallowing in the depths of despair at some point. No one loses their favorite dog or pick-up truck, but there are plenty of other dilemmas to warble about.
Unfortunately neither McGraw nor Paltrow’s performances strike the same chord they’ve achieved in other movies. It is hard to believe that McGraw’s character is nearly as concerned about his wife’s welfare as he is the concert earnings she can bring in. And Paltrow’s character is anything but strong—country or otherwise. Whimpering through the tour and her troubled relationships, it is hard to conceive she could muster enough inner resolve to rally for even one performance. Fortunately Hedlund plays the one bright light as a singer who refuses to be wooed by the flashy set and screaming audiences.
Country fans may be enticed into theaters by this movie’s musical score. Yet for other viewers, these woeful individuals’ casual attitude toward sex and cravings for alcohol, fame and fortune make for a rather depressing entertainment option.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Country Strong.
What are the personal costs of becoming a performer? What stresses does a singer face that the average fan does not?
What challenges may cause people to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief? Does fame make it easier to access or justify the use of these substances? How difficult do you think it is to avoid these when you are involved in an on-stage lifestyle?
What are the benefits of rehabilitation clinics? Considering the success (or failure) of some stars that have recently used these facilities, do you think they are worthwhile? What makes a person more likely to successfully change?