Thursday, January 6, 2011
So after the PFS preview of Country Strong on Wednesday night, I was discussing the film with a staff member who felt the movie was too song oriented. I could tell he was not a Country Music fan, so I agreed with him and said I feel the producers of the film were more interested in selling a soundtrack than making a good movie, which I truly feel. What I didn't say, was that I would be one of the people looking to buy said soundtrack. I was already on YouTube yesterday watching the music video of Gwyneth marching around in her red cowboy boots to the title track. And looking for the "Give In To Me" duet sung by Leighton Meester & Garrett Hedlund. I was disappointed to discover their version is not on the soundtrack, Faith Hill sings it instead; nor did their duet of "Friends in Low Places" make it onto the album.
In terms of the singing, I thought all 3 did a very credible job. It seems that Leighton did have some previous singing experience. Her character, Chiles Stanton is a beauty queen turned honky tonk bar singer with a case of stage fright that gets to her every now and then. I've only seen one whole episode of Gossip Girl, I don't remember taking note of Meester one way or another, but I wasn't feeling like her role in Country Strong would be too promising. I was wrong. She's the best character in the film. Meester plays the role with different levels of vulnerability and unsure vibrato and sexual prowess. She's got an unusual mouth, like she wore braces on her teeth too long. I like it though, it keeps her from being too ordinarily pretty.
Hedlund had no previous singing experience. He started training 4 months before shooting. I loved his voice best. Real deep and soulful, just a little scratchy, he was very confident on stage and he's got this 2 parts good guy/2 parts bad boy sex appeal going on! I hear he was wooden and stiff (not in a good way) in Tron Legacy, so he's lucky to be able to redeem himself so quickly with this performance in Country Strong.
We all learned of Paltrow's singing aspirations over a decade ago from her film Duets and more recently her guest appearance on Glee. In one of the interviews I watched, Paltrow admits to not having any real country music knowledge, that she did more preparation for this role than any of her previous movies; learning to play the guitar and listening to a heap lot o country music from George Strait to Brad Paisley and Loretta Lynn to Carrie Underwood. I think the research comes through, it's no Oscar winning performance, but she's pulling it off. Like most people, I see Gwyneth Paltrow as a well-educated, patrician, former debutante. I enjoy her in roles like A Perfect Murder or The Talented Mr. Ripley; for me, she has to work twice as hard to play against type.
Tim McGraw ironically doesn't sing in the film at all. I would have liked a scene where he as Kelly Canter's (Paltrow) husband/manager, sing a duet. Not on stage, just as a little moment between the two. The character of James Canter is somebody who is in control, ambitious and a bit arrogant. McGraw does a good job of showing the cracks, as if underneath his stomach is in constant knots.
I read that writer/director Shana Feste (The Greatest) got the idea for this movie from Brittany Spear's breakdown back when she shaved her head and all. I wish we got to live through this kind of drama with Kelly Canter, but the story opens with her in rehab. She's already had a major breakdown culminating in being drunk during a concert, falling off the stage, resulting in the loss of her unborn child. Beau (Hedlund) is singer by night and rehab orderly by day. He and Canter have started an affair during her recuperation. Kelly's husband/manager, James (McGraw) decides to put Kelly back to work before her rehab is over, she tells him she wants Beau to open for her. James says he's got somebody else in mind, Chiles Stanton (Meester), but after seeing Beau rescue Stanton from stage fright during her "audition", he decides to book them both.
There's some interesting interplay between all four characters. There's two scenes where Kelly makes up lyrics for a song on the spot like a rapper spittin rhythms, there's a good moment where Kelly is drunk and laying on Chiles' lap in a cab and realizes this girl is "just somebody's daughter". And a few other well-written moments. But there's no build, there's no pay off, and most importantly, there's not enough backstory to Kelly. Basically, It's no Walk The Line, but if you're a fan of country singing, go and enjoy the music.