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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Country Strong

By
Kurt Jensen
Source: Catholic News Service


Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw star in "Country Strong."
"Country Strong" (Screen Gems) wears its mawkish cliches proudly on its flannel sleeves.

That's often not a bad thing—or at least excusable—if all you're looking for is a guilty-pleasure, two-hour escape of nonstop and quite effective country music. Were it only that simple.

Instead, writer-director Shana Feste sends four one-dimensional characters—all of them shown to be moral and caring when their ambitions or pathologies haven't taken over—spinning like pinballs in a twangy, shopworn tale of substance abuse, adultery and the grim lifestyle played out on a tour bus.

It's the DNA of most country songs—the sad ones, anyway—but it's likely to insult its target audience, who are perfectly capable of appreciating a better-limned story.

Gwyneth Paltrow is Kelly Canter, an emotionally fragile country queen who fell into a spiral of alcohol and drugs that resulted in a miscarriage five months into a pregnancy.

Just getting out of rehab as the story begins, Kelly is also coping with a loveless marriage to her ambitious and manipulative promoter James (Tim McGraw). As she explains to her on-again-off-again lover Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), "We don't kiss with our mouths open anymore."

Right away, James puts Kelly on a comeback tour that is supposed to end in a triumphal return to Dallas, the scene of her miscarriage and disastrous public meltdown. Beau is a very appealing country singer himself, and James pairs him with neurotic beauty queen-turned-singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester)—on whom he has designs as well—to serve as Kelly's warm-up act.

Kelly—whose mascara is running in nearly every scene (sometimes she's holding a bottle of booze, too, just to underline the point)—is, of course, in no shape to perform. She can't finish a song in Houston, is too drunk to perform on "Austin City Limits" and is jealous of Chiles' youth and beauty. She also occasionally engages in promiscuous sex.

Beau always cares, which is why—in a thoroughly immoral and messy state of, well, affairs—both women share him. James, by contrast, is only interested in getting his wife on stage before the cheering throngs.

In one tasteless sequence involving an image-burnishing visit for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Kelly warmly improvises a song for a cancer-stricken boy in his classroom. Watching, James briefly realizes why he loved Kelly in the first place and—as her band plays—they pair up and dance, ignoring the sick lad.

At that point we're forced to wonder: "Who cares what happens to these two self-absorbed clods?"

The film contains scenes of implied adulterous and premarital sex, pervasive crude language and fleeting profanity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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