If we must have movies about country singers, could somebody at least think up something for them to do other than be washed-up alcoholics? Following in the footsteps of 2009’s Crazy Heart—a genial cliché-fest that coasted on Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning charisma—Country Strong stars Gwyneth Paltrow as fading superstar Kelly Canter, who begins the movie in rehab following an onstage tumble that resulted in a miscarriage. Yanked out of the facility well before full recovery by her husband and manager (played by actual country superstar Tim McGraw, who doesn’t sing a note and only occasionally conveys a credible emotion), Kelly embarks on a comeback mini-tour, which is mechanically complicated by her affair with one of the musicians opening for her (Garrett Hedlund) and by her rivalry—for both the spotlight and the new hunk—with her other opening act (Leighton Meester).
That writer-director Shana Feste (The Greatest) named her protagonist after a word associated with horses should give you an idea of how richly imaginative this movie is not. How can she constantly remind us of the child Kelly lost, and for whom the struggling singer still grieves? By having her find and tend to a baby bird, naturally. Paltrow, who has a decent voice (previously heard in the little-seen Infamous), turns in a sincere, committed performance, but the movie’s only true sign of life is Meester, who gives her up-and-comer a genuinely winning case of toxic hero worship. Although even that element was also present in Crazy Heart.