It is an enigma. I am totally devoid of an aesthetic attraction to country western music yet I find the movies riveting, ravishing and raunchily entertaining. Archival favorites are: “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, Sissy Spacek (Academy Award) portrays Loretta Lynn, her foibles, follies and fortune, with spunk, fire and dignity; “Sweet Dreams”, Patsy Cline is immortalized by the gorgeous and gifted Jessica Lange; “Walk the Line” Reese Witherspoon gives an Academy Award performance as the beleaguered singer and wife of Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash. The pivotal message, the Academy is aesthetically attracted to the country western genre as is a huge portion of the American population.
Expecting minimal entertainment from “Country Strong” I was artistically and emotionally kidnapped from the first scene; the depth of the portrayals of every character resonated with truth, purity, touching clarity; every tear shed was testimony to the actors imbuing their roles with profound, assiduous insight; this is casting at its pinnacle.
One of the major hurdles that seasoned ingénues are confronted with is the transition from the talented, youthful beauty (beauty opens many doors); Katherine Hepburn, Merly Streep, Blythe Danner, made the leap, gold medalists in the ageing gracefully category; to meaningful, solid characterizations , still glamorous, but not the key ingredient in mastering a successful interpretation.
Gwyneth Paltrow (Blythe Danner’s daughter) has conquered the silver, with years to prove her worthiness of the gold; she is Kelly Canter (loosely based on Faith Hill), whose fame blossomed too soon, leaving an undeveloped shell bereft of substance; an achingly lonely vacuum that only alcohol can satiate and placate. Platrow is magnificent in depicting the demise of this talented, tormented, vulnerable soul; whose capacity for love wounds all she embraces. This flawless portrait of doomed passion, fame and pain puts Paltrow in league with the above mentioned actors.
Tim McGraw as James Canter paints a profound and remarkable study of a man who loved his wife beyond obsession; her Svengali, her guru, protector, but despite Herculean efforts cannot save her from herself. This quiet, dignified, self-contained portrayal of wounded, raw pain, still grounded in hope, was inspirational.
Garrett Hedlund is wonderful as Kelly’s “sponsor” Beau; young, aspiring songwriter with a conscience and capacity for genuine unselfish love and devotion; his steadfastness, steely resolve, never dissolves, just becomes the strength that all he encounters, thirst for.
Leighton Meester, is Chiles, a devotee of Kelly Canter’s; a neophyte, naive, struggling with her tenuous talent; knowing failure is just one misstep or song from her door. This performance by the lovely, imminently talented Messter was the key, catalyst, resulting in the ultimate success of “Country Strong”; her ambition is not tainted with egotism; she admires without being obsequious; it is her compassion and willingness to learn, becoming a student of those “greats” who preceded her. Primarily, she acknowledges that not just her voice, her brain also is in need of cultivation, nourishment.
If asked who I would select as a dinner companion I would be hard- pressed to choose between these four unique, luminous, alluring, creatively flawed, but ultimately real individuals.
FOUR STARS !!!!