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Gwyneth Paltrow

"Country Strong" | a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

In a snug pair of faded blue jeans and cotton t-shirt, the lovely and talented Gwyneth Paltrow slips from behind the wheel of her old, seedy pickup truck. Stepping onto the curb, the famous film star is confronted by a large, 50ish-looking woman who asks Gwyneth, "Say, didn't you used to be Mac Sledge?"

Ms. Paltrow says, "No, ma'am, but I used to be Viola De Lesseps. You must be confusing me with Kelly Canter, a fictitious country singing star I play in my new movie called, "Country Strong."

"Well, no, Miss Canter, I haven't seen that picture show, yet," the woman replies. "Well, do you reckon you might know Bad Blake, or maybe even Reuben Cogburn. Reuben's an old guy from up Ft. Smith way. Everybody I know of calls him, 'Rooster.'"

"Tender Mercies" with Robert Duvall

A frown appears on the beautiful forehead of Gwyneth Paltrow. "You're being very clever, ma'am," Gwyneth mutters, "tossing those characters names at me that have been played recently by the very fine Hollywood actor, Jeff Bridges. If you haven't seen my new film, you surely must've seen 'Tender Mercies,' 'Crazy Heart' and the recent remake of 'True Grit,' right? That must be how you're able to be so coy with me right here in broad daylight, right?"

"No, I haven't seen those Jeff Bridges pictures shows, or even 'The Last Picture Show'* for that matter, but we did have this other big film actor in town some years back with some Californee movie people makin' a picture that was called... uh... uh, oh yes, 'Mac Sledge.'"

Ms. Paltrow angrily turns on her heel and re-enters the cab of her pick up, shouting "Yes, I know---and your Robert Duvall's Aunt Wilma!"

If you suddenly feel as if some one should start singing a C&W song titled, "Been There 'n' Done That A'fore," watching "Country Strong," don't think you losing your marbles, podner. You're just sittin' there in a thee-ayter watching a movin' pitcher that's gonna probably make a whole semi-trailer load o' money cause it's got some really cute actors in it, and there's lots o' pretty singin', not to mention a hayloft full of effort to manipulate your emotions tellin' about drinkin', havin' nervous breakdowns, wantin' kids, sleepin' around---on and off the bus---and what a body should do to find happiness in Dallas, Texas. In fact, after hearing some of the soapy country dialogue in "Country Strong," you'd swear that this movin' pitcher should be called, "Forget About Dallas." (If we only could!")

You'll never guess that Ms. Paltrow does play that Kelly Canter gal. She's just like Mac Sledge's ex-wife was in "Tender Mercies": a big C&W singing star, just about to play out during her final road trip. Naturally, Tim McGraw plays Kelly's husband/manager, James. Then, there's Garrett Hedlund, as Beau Hutton, a younger version of Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart," but not nearly as flabby or drunk---nor as cranky as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit."

Leighton Meester

Leighton Meester

The role of the younger woman is played by a little gal who looks like she could have Bonnie Bedelia and Winona Ryder for older sisters. Her real name is Leighton Meester. In "Country Strong" she goes by the name of Chiles Stanton. (You don't say Chiles like: CHILL-eez, btw, either) And her part is a little bit like the Sue Anne character Ellen Barkin did in "Tender Mercies." Sue Anne, of course, ain't a singer, but she's younger and real pretty, too... and, of course, Mac Sledge's daughter.

I think this is where we came in on this movie. But I need to tell you that Paltrow, seemingly out her element, especially when I thought back to "Shakespeare in Love" as Viola De Lesseps, kicks some butt now and then in her Kelly Canter role... although it's made tough for Ms. Paltrow to get a real bead on the character, as the script and direction, both taken on by Shana Feste, made it a difficult chore for Gwyneth to pull off. In one scene, she's some one... and in another scene she might be somebody else... but still the same person that's supposed to be Kelly, the big time country/western singer, on her (just about) last lap.

Garrett Hedlund

Garrett Hedlund

Another big old guitar chord should be strummed for Mr. Hedlund as Beau. The gals will wilt watchin' him... and he sings a good song.

But, believe it or not, Mr. McGraw doesn't even sing a note, albeit he's got lots of sour faces to put on for the audience---as he and Kelly slog through the fame and blame of the big time C&W music biz.

After seein' "Country Strong," I'm wonderin' if Faith Hill and Coldplay might try, sometime, makin' a new wave kind of music/drama movie with alternative rock and C&W, mixed together --and have Mac Sledge's Aunt Wilma on the bus as the road manager.

Of course, the very talented Robert Duvall would direct. And the film would be titled, "Country Wrong."

(*For full disclosure: In Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show," if you'll remember a cameo in that film, there was a young woman named Jimmie Sue. Jimmie Sue was played by Helena Humann. Ms. Humann also plays the "Aunt Wilma" character in "Tender Mercies," the 50s-ish woman who wants to know if Duvall "didn't used to be Mac Sledge," one of the best lines in any movie, ever---including, "Play it again, Sam." I won't recall Jimmie Sue's scene for you... you'll just have to rent that really good movie about Texas, and remind yourself, if need be.)

"Country Strong" official site. Now playing.

See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2011, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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