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‘Country Strong’ Movie Review: Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw Shine in Each Other’s Worlds

Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw
Scott Garfield

Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow proves credible as a country singer and Nashville star Tim McGraw cements his reputation as an actor capable of nuance and charisma throughout the new film ‘Country Strong,’ which opens nationwide this weekend.

The film explores the intersection of four flawed characters, each at an important crossroads in both their romantic and professional lives. Paltrow stars as a disgraced country music superstar pulled out of rehab prematurely by her husband/manager (McGraw) in order to mount a comeback tour, the sudden urgency of which is never fully explained.

It soon becomes very clear that the couple hasn’t properly dealt with the tragic event that sent her into rehab. To make things worse, each has also brought along new baggage and potential romantic entanglements, in the form of up-and -coming young country singers played by Garret Hedlund and Leighton Meester.

To the film’s credit, nothing’s as cut and dried as it so often is in movieland, as what the characters want and do changes frequently as they all travel on a bumpy road to mutually beneficial relationships or resolutions.

Simple honest statements or positive preemptive actions in any two of about six different groan-worthy situations (maybe they should hide the vodka from the alcoholic, for example) would have removed about 90% of the dramatic misunderstandings that fuel the movie. But then again, what drama is there in a film with well-adjusted people communicating clearly and getting along?

Most important to us, of course, is the music, and this film is chock-full of a wide variety of catchy songs, shot dramatically and performed quite convincingly by all three of the actors. Funnily enough, McGraw never sings in the film.  There’s also a nice running subplot exploring the virtues of traditional country songcraft versus more modern, pop-influenced material.

In short, there’s a lot of good things about ‘Country Strong.’ Even if some of the motivations and actions don’t fully add up, the acting and musical performances are more than enough to keep you invested and entertained.

You can read our track-by track review of the ‘Country Strong’ soundtrack here, and check out a gallery of photos from the film here. ‘Country Strong’ opens in theaters across the country on Friday, Jan. 7.

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