Newest Reviews:

New Movies -  

The Tunnel


The Tall Man

Mama Africa





Brownian Movement

Last Ride

[Rec]³: Genesis

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Indie Game: The Movie

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Old Movies -

Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena

Drums Along the Mohawk

The Chase

The Heiress

Show People

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry



Miracle Mile

The Great Flamarion

Dark Habits

Archives -

Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012

All reviews alphabetically

All reviews by star rating

All reviews by release year


Screening Log



E-mail me



Country Strong (Shana Feste, 2010)


A down-home, deliberately retro throwback, Shana Feste’s Country Strong stumbles through a morass of clichés, achieving the sporadic moment of inspiration along the way. Although it features another inspired performance from Gwyneth Paltrow, who seemingly has made portraying onscreen depression her career goal, the film actually emerges more as an ensemble piece, featuring four characters that may not be extremely well-defined, yet all get ample streen time. What ultimately results is a somewhat schizophrenic, arbitrarily messaged tale about the pressures of fame and the sanctity of music. It will come down to individual preference whether the film’s suite of genuinely enjoyable musical performances and star power will be enough to overcome the scenario’s inherent triteness.


From its start, Country Strong seems to be setting the audience up for the story of a pop star’s inspirational comeback. The template, well-worn by the genre, seems to write itself from the first scenes. Paltrow, playing a drunken country superstar, who once won seven Grammys, yet now seems incapable of stringing together a few notes, offers a character so wounded that she seemingly has nowhere to go but up. The trajectory of the film, surprises, however, and what emerges is less a ratification of the human will than an oddly reactionary cautionary tale about the pressures wrought by fame.


So, by the time Country Strong ends, it has largely defeated the feel-good buzz from its subplots involving puppy love (between the classically appealing Leighton Meester and the white trash-charming Garrett Hedlund) and charity. The tonal shifts between its various plot strands threaten to squelch the buoyancy of the modern, pop-country soundtrack. The “real-life” emotions are so raw here that it seems odd that these artists would be singing dopey, enjoyable songs like “Shake That Thing.” This balance between art and life is not difficult to achieve. It has been better modulated in other country-music films, from Altman’s classic Nashville to Peter Bogdanovich’s woefully underappreciated The Thing Called Love. Here, the characters, who cycle about in dyads, making Country Strong almost feel like a chamber drama, are disconnected from their on-stage personas, which might be the point, perhaps. If Feste is out to show that beneath contemporary Nashville’s pop sheen the wounded heart of country still beats strong, Country Strong is something of a success. If her goal was instead less admirable… to manipulate the audience into feeling something, no matter what the cost, she probably has only achieved a cheap shock effect.



Jeremy Heilman