Confession: I saw “Country Strong” in the theater. Twice. It was an Event with a capital E. I’ve always liked Gwyneth Paltrow even though the internet tells me to hate her, and the idea of Gwynnie going country was just too perfect for me to handle. I have since watched nearly every cable TV showing of “Country Strong” and I am prepared to defend it as the best Gwyneth Paltrow movie in the entire world. Here’s why.
1. Kelly Canter is Bizarro Gwyneth. Whereas Gwyneth’s public image is perfectly put-together and collected, Kelly Canter is the complete opposite. She’s always melting down in bathrooms with a half-empty bottle of vodka in her hand and getting wasted in honky-tonks and dancing on the bar. Gwyneth would never be the trainwreck that Kelly becomes. (I read that Kelly Canter was partly based on 2007 breakdown Britney Spears.)
2. The accent. Gwyneth’s accent is pretty great. Sometimes she does that weird affected British thing that celebrities do when they want to seem cultured, but Kelly Canter is from the South and Gwyn does a fairly decent drawl. I’m mostly impressed that she can keep it in check when she’s wailing and crying.
3. The eye candy. Um … Garrett Hedlund as the sensitive singer-songwriter Beau Hutton. I realize this isn’t Gwyneth-related but goddamn he is fine. I swoon every time he’s onscreen and especially when he’s driving that beat-up old pickup. SO HOT. And he grew up only an hour from me in Minnesota. HE IS MY DESTINY.
4. The costumes. Gwyneth gets to wear some pretty spectacular GOWN, especially the one she wears in her triumphant comeback concert shortly before the movie ends. (No spoilers for those of you who haven’t been blessed by “Country Strong” yet!) She is drowning in sparkles, just like any country star should be. There are hair extensions, miniskirts, cowboy boots … “Country Strong” is practically my closet.
5. The rivalry. Kelly Canter throws just the right amount of shade at Leighton Meester’s up-and-coming singer Chiles Stanton. Gwyneth delivers these lines like she’s been waiting her whole life to say them. But then at the end, she decides to be nice and pass on some of her hard-earned knowledge to the eager ingenue, which is very sweet. I bet Faith Hill does the same thing.
6. Gwyneth sings! Is Gwyneth a good singer? I mean, if you’ve seen “Duets” you probably have an opinion on this. I think she is, but other people disagree. Anyway, Gwyneth is apparently good enough to perform “Coming Home” at the Oscars in 2011. She sang it into a sparkly microphone. Kelly would be proud. That song was also nominated for an Oscar, so I think that validates “Country Strong” in total.
7. The soundtracks. There are two. I have them both in my car and I listen to them more often than I should. I really like the Gwyneth and Tim McGraw duet “Me and Tennesee.” Judge away. The Garrett Hedlund songs are the best, though.
8. Serious Actor Tim McGraw. You know, I think Tim McGraw’s current country catalog is pretty godawful in light of his early classics like “Don’t Take the Girl” and “Where the Green Grass Grows,” but I don’t hate him as an actor. I would actually prefer if he continued to focus on acting instead of releasing shitty singles like “Lookin’ for That Girl.” Stop, Tim.
9. It’s pure soapy bliss. This is “Nashville” before there was “Nashville.” You’ve got your almost washed-up star, her younger replacement, the Svengali husband who manages them both and the idealistic young musician who is trying to keep them all together. Add copious amounts of vodka and plenty of blather about love and BAM – “Country Strong.”
10. The “Travis” song makes me cry every time. I’m crying right now. Everyone who hates Gwyneth should just watch that part and then I know you will fall in love with her. Don’t hate Gwyneth. But if you do, she doesn’t give a shit –- she’s country strong, hard to break.