Skip Navigation Links
Catholic News
Special Reports
Google Plus
RSS Feeds
ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Country Strong

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.

Search reviews at

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

Spiritual Resilience

World AIDS Awareness Day
An e-card from you will brighten someone's day. Let those who are ill know they're not forgotten.

St. Andrew
Legend says that this apostle, patron of Scotland, was crucified on an X-shaped cross.

First Sunday of Advent
Before dinner this evening gather your family to bless the Advent wreath and light one purple candle.

Remember also to give thanks for departed loved ones with whom you’ll someday be reunited.

Thanksgiving Day (U.S.)
Thanks be to God for our families, our homes, our lives. Happy Thanksgiving from Catholic Greetings and

Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic

An Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2015