Videogum

The Videogum Movie Club: Country Strong

I’m no fan of Gwyneth Paltrow. As a human being, and even as a celebrity, which is a particularly weird strain of human being, I find her to be completely insufferable. Even the “candid” behind-the-scenes moments on, say, a talk show, or a YouTube about cooking chicken, in which she works so hard to come off as likable and normal seem, at least to me, particularly deceptive and phony, Bedazzled style. Turn your back on her for one second, and feel the fires of eternal damnation. But as an actress she is, admittedly, fine. She can certainly do her job. I’m not saying that she’s a particularly great or even interesting actress: she’s got razor lips, thinks that half-lidded eyes are the most powerful form of emotive expression, and you can always kind of sense that Chris Martin and Jay-Z are waiting for her to eat brunch with them at some castle just off-camera. But it’s serviceable. So, with that in mind, I actually had a feeling I might like Country Strong, or at least not mind it. In the philosophical concept of Brian Greene’s multi-verse, there’s certainly a world somewhere in the cosmos where I watch Country Strong and admit that it was not that bad. You just have to travel for eternity into infinity, because it sure as hell is not this world.

Holy shit was that a terrible movie. If I had to sum up my feelings about it in one word, that word would be:

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOF!

Country Strong opens with country music superstar Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) getting out of rehab. Her manager/husband, played by Tim McGraw, has got three comeback tour dates lined up for her across Texas, ending in Dallas, which was the scene of her tragic meltdown when she got really drunk and fell off the stage (YouTube) while she was five months pregnant. Eek. Also, she is leaving rehab one month early, which it is suggested might be kind of a problem. Nah. I’m sure she’ll be fine. The movie is probably just about her being very sober and successfully restoring her career to its previous heights. (Also, she has found, like, a baby quail chick in the woods and is keeping it in a wooden box and maybe it is supposed to be a metaphor or something, but you will never know, because they definitely lose the thread of this side-plot about halfway through the movie. R.I.P. baby quail chick.) Anyway, long story short, Garrett Hedlund, her AA sponsor, and Leighton Meester, a Taylor Swift parody, are going to be coming on the tour and opening for Kelly. Yay! Let’s go on tour!

Oh, whoops, Gwyneth Paltrow is drunk, like, right away. Oh, and Garret Hedlund isn’t her AA sponsor at all, he is her mistress. Guys, I’m worried about this tour!

For a long time it is unclear whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow is even going to play in Dallas. I’M SO NERVOUS ABOUT THIS SHOW IN DALLAS! Just kidding. Although, I will say that the spectral Dallas concert was kind of a nice touch because it let me know how much of the movie was left. “OK, the next show is Dallas, so there’s going to be what, 15 minutes of buildup and then Dallas and then we can all go home?” Meanwhile, SPOILER ALERT, Garret Hedlund stops fucking Gwyneth Paltrow and starts fucking Leighton Meester. Cool. Can we all agree that between Tron 2.0 and Country Strong, Garret Hedlund has set new speed records in terms of establishing himself as one of the least charismatic and awful actors ever? Two weeks ago I didn’t even know who he was and now I hate him. Anyway: Dallas. Kelly Cantor ROCKS THE HOUSE, Y’ALL. But before people can even finish celebrating the success of her official comeback, she, oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding, nope, yup, she kills herself. DING DONG THIS MOVIE IS A PIECE OF GARBAGE. But actually, this movie is not about Kelly Canter, it is about Beau Hutton (Garret Hedlund), the movie opened with him performing, if you will recall, and so the movie follows him for a little while longer after Kelly’s death as he moves to California or something and gives up the fast-paced lifestyle of country music superstardom to pursue country music nothingdom. Leighton Meester shows up? They are in love I think? Who cares. The end.

But the dialog! Here is a sample interaction:

Leighton Meester: I see you brought your lyrics with you.
Garret Hedlund: What is this, 20 questions?

UH, NO, IT’S ONE QUESTION, AND SHE GOT IT RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY. HUH?! Here is some more naturalistic dialog that is just so interesting and human and raw:

Concert Promoter: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you.
Tim McGraw: Oh, come on, Phil. You know we’re all fools in this business.

GUH.

And can we talk about how everyone in the movie with the possible exception of Leighton Meester was entirely despicable? Like, I think we’re supposed to see Garret Hedlund as some kind of soulful, dreamboat lover who is thoughtful and talented and handsome and just wants to take care of everyone and make music. But, for the first half of the movie he is not only SLEEPING WITH A MARRIED WOMAN but he is POSING AS HER AA SPONSOR. Yikes. At a certain point when everything is out in the open and Tim McGraw punches him in the face because he says “I think we both know I was never her sponsor,” which is probably one of the sleeziest things anyone could ever say, we never find out, for example, WHO IS HER AA SPONSOR? She clearly needs one? She should definitely have one? But she doesn’t? Yikes. Tim McGraw, of course, is supposed to be despicable because of his unrelenting pressure on Kelly to get back on stage before she is ready, and his refusal to fuck her even though she just got a bikini wax, but there is one moment that I think is probably the most despicable act of the entire movie. In an effort to rehabilitate herself in the media, Kelly goes to a second grade classroom to visit a young boy dying from Leukemia as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It is actually one of the nicest moments in the whole movie…FOR A MINUTE. Kelly sits on the floor and sings an improvised song and the little boy is very cute and it’s all kind of charming and nice. Then she asks the little boy to dance with her while the band plays, and soon the whole classroom of children is dancing and having a good time. At which point, Tim McGraw, overcome with emotion or something, CUTS IN ON THE DYING CHILD’S DANCE, and begins DEEP SLOW DANCING WITH GWYNETH PALTROW in this ELEMENTARY SCHOOL to the point where she is CRYING, and then just as quickly he pulls away from her and runs out of the room, leaving her to suffer in private silence while children are like, what the fuck?

Yuck, Tim McGraw.

Amidst all of this horrible behavior on the part of EVERYONE, there is never a single moment of reckoning. No one stops and says “hey, how about you DON’T be terrible for two seconds.” It is as if this movie believes that it’s just depicting life, and while it is true that most people are awful, that is just nonsense. At the very least, when people are awful, someone usually lets them know. That makes sense, though, because the movie has no idea what it is talking about. Right before Kelly goes on stage for her triumphant/fatal Dallas show, she asks Beau if he thinks she’s crazy. “No,” Beau says, “I don’t think you’re crazy. I just don’t think love and fame can live in the same place*.” Uh, you’re both wrong? She is not crazy, and her problem is not that “love and fame can’t live in the same place.” The problem is that SHE IS AN ALCOHOLIC. You guys should seriously watch your own movie. You’d get it. It’s pretty obvious. (And stupid.)

Probably the worst part of this whole movie is how bland and dull it is. It has absolutely nothing to say about anything. It doesn’t provide any insight into the life of an alcoholic or the life of people living with an alcoholic. It doesn’t even have anything to say about COUNTRY MUSIC. Like, despite the movie’s title, and its numerous musical set pieces, and the very terrible accents everyone talks in, not a single aspect of country music is explored. They might as well be lounge singers, or a Bushwick noise act, or Stomp. It doesn’t matter. The movie takes place in hotels and in vans and the anonymous cinder block walls of a concert venue’s dressing room. The people talk about love and fame and alcohol and dead babies, but there is nothing to do with, say, the race and class issues that surround country music and country music fans. Garret Hedlund does flick the brim of his 10-gallon hat off of his forehead a lot, so I guess there is that.

MORE LIKE COUNTRY WEAK, AM I RIGHT, YOU GUYS?!

*Hilariously, at the end of the movie, after Kelly Canter KILLS HERSELF (lol, come ON), Beau is reading the goodbye suicide letter that she wrote him, and she says “One time you told me that love and fame can’t live in the same place…” He tells her that right before the Dallas show and she kills herself right after the Dallas show, so “one time” refers to “15 minutes ago”? Good letter. This movie stinks.