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Country Strong

After a whirlwind weekend in Los Angeles screening the new Screen Gems movie “Country Strong” and chatting with stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw and Leighton Meester, this is my officially unofficial (oh what the HECK, it’s official) review of the movie!

When I first saw the trailer for Country Strong, I was intrigued, excited and to be honest, a little worried. Intrigued at Gwyneth Paltrow playing a country music star fallen to the demons of alcoholism. Excited to see one of my favorite country artists, Tim McGraw take on another acting challenge and worried that the movie would not give country music the respect it so well deserves.

I had nothing to worry about.

I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this film. But first, let me give you a short synopsis on the film.

Country Strong is a music drama written and directed by Shana Feste (Writer/Director “The Greatest”). Gwyneth Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, an emotionally unstable country star who is pulled out of rehab by her husband/Manager James Canter (played by Tim McGraw) in order to embark on a career resurrection tour. Joining them on the tour is rising young singer-songwriter Beau Williams played by Garett Hedlunnd and a beauty-queen-turned-singer discovered by James, Chiles Stanton played by Leighton Meester. While on the road, romantic entanglements and old wounds threaten to derail them all.

I was always a fan of Gwyneth’s and felt she deserved her Oscar for Shakespere In Love. I believe she’s even better in this film. Her performance as Kelly Canter never feels pushed. It’s real and raw and believable. She apparently took singing and guitar lessons for this role, yet it feels like Gwyneth’s been playing her whole life. She has an honest quality to her voice and she knows how to tell the story of the song through the lyrics.

Interestingly enough, when I interviewed Tim, he said he had initially turned down the role of James not once but twice. He was afraid that he would be seen as “Tim McGraw, country singer” instead of the character, and he didn’t want to take away from the film. He had no reason to fear. Never once was I thinking “Oh, that’s Tim McGraw in this movie”. He was…James Canter. Now if you’re looking for a character similar to what he played so well in “Blindside”, you won’t find it. James Canter is dark, and, honestly at times down right mean. Yet out of all the characters in the film, I felt the most compassion for James. That right there says a lot about Tim’s acting chops. I remember seeing an interview with Tim back when he was in the Billy Bob Thornton movie “Friday Night Lights”. Tim said he liked acting, and was learning a lot, but wouldn’t call himself an “Actor”. Tim…I think you can call yourself an actor now.

Leighton Meester does a great job as Chiles Stanton. I’m a Gossip Girl fan, and I didn’t see Blair Waldorf anywhere. Chiles is something of a paradox, between complete trusting innocence and worldly “climbing to the top no matter what” character. Leighton has had some success in the R&B/Pop genre, and she fits well in the pop/country genre as well.

So now I get to the “breakout” performance (I’ve always wanted to say that!) of the film. Garrett Hedlund as Beau Williams. First off, let me just say WOW! Okay, yea, Garrett is hot, hot, hot! But aside from that, he is a really talented actor. He plays Beau with such ease, it’s like this character was made for Garrett, and fits him like a glove. Beyond his acting abilitiy is his musical talent. His songs alone are enough to want the soundtrack (I’ll get to the soundtrack next). The boy can sing country, that is for sure. He has that old school country sound that so much of the genre has gotten away from. It’s nice to see it come back in the form of a hot new star. If he wants a future in country music, I do believe it’s his for the taking.

So last but most important to me, is the fifth character of the film, the music. All the stars of the film have songs on the Soundtrack (including Tim, although he does not sing in the film itself). The title track “Country Song” that Gwyneth performed so well at the CMT’s isn’t the only stand out. With tracks from the likes of Sara Evans, Trace Adkins, Ronnie Dunn, Lee Ann Womack, the haunting verson of “Give In To Me” by Tim’s wife Faith Hill, and even new music from Hank Jr. , it’s hard to pick a favorite. The one song I keep playing over and over is “Chances Are” by Garrett Hedlund. My point: you’re not going to want to pick and choose downloads at iTunes. You’re gonna wanna get the whole CD.

You don’t have to be a country music fan to love this movie. My sister only wanted to see the film because she loves Gwyneth. In fact, she says she has an “aversion” to country music! (I KNOW, and where does her sister work? lol!) But after seeing the film which she loved, she wanted to buy the soundtrack on the way home from the theater!

I highly recommend you go see Country Song and go get the soundtrack. Better yet, get the soundtrack first, then go see the film (you’ll get that much more out of it!). And Stay “Country Strong”!

Oh, and DON’T MISS my interviews with the stars of Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw on St. Louis Country KMOV January 1st, New Years!

Country Strong

Release Date Nationally: January 7, 2011

Director: Shana Feste Writer: Shana Feste Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester

Running Time: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content.