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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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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Once you begin to neglect obedience, one by one everything goes. Obedience is difficult but that’s where love comes from. There are so many broken families because a woman will not obey a man and a man will not obey a woman. We belong to Jesus and obedience is our strength. You must do small acts of obedience with great love.

The Gospel of John the Gospel of Relationship

 
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