Writer-director Shana Feste (The Greatest) has the misfortune of shepherding a Country music project a year after Jeff Bridges earned his first Academy Award in Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart. The authenticity of the hard-knock life as a singer-songwriter bent every note in Cooper’s film, which kept it perfectly in tune. But Country Strong tries to glitz the arrangement up into a Country Pop piece, and the results are barely radio worthy.
Interestingly enough, the single notable exception would be the singing and the performance of Garrett Hedlund and not that of the more celebrated headliner Gwyneth Paltrow.
Hedlund, also featured in theaters as Bridges’ son in Tron: Legacy, certainly does have a modicum of the Dude’s scruffy, rugged presence, and he’s got an in-the-pocket voice for the film’s version of singer-songwriter Country music. Nothing about his singing feels forced, which seeps into his acting as well, allowing him to give the sense of simply walking in the shoes of a guy who only cares about the music and the small crowds that come to hear him and drink their beers.
It’s just too bad that the rest of the film plays to the big Pop drama — the drugs, the sex and the stints in celebrity rehab before the marketable return to the game — that would be fodder for a Bravo reality series. Grade: D-plus