Gwyneth Paltrow: Country Strong?

Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly Canter in Country Strong; image courtesy of justjared.buzznet.com

While I was getting a much-needed haircut last night, my hairdresser recapped Easy A, which I’d like to see. She also saw the trailer to Gwyneth Paltrow’s new movie, whose title she couldn’t remember and called it Straight to DVD. Country Strong, directed by Shana Feste with a song from Sara Evans, makes its theatrical debut late December and can basically be reduced to the actress’s attempt at Crazy Heart. Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a washed-up country singer just out of rehab who hopes, along with her husband/manager (Tim McGraw) to make a comeback with a successful tour. Canter is accompanied by rising stars Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) and crossover sensation Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester).

Apart from how ridiculous this sounded, I was also nonplussed. Didn’t Paltrow counter a waning acting career by reinventing herself as an haute bourgeoise guru who espouses cashmere jeans and culinary tourism as a path toward spiritual well-being? Furthermore, this hardly seems a logical attempt to calibrate her image. With her quarter-Jewish heritage, WASP credentials, Hollywood insider pedigree, and finishing school diction, “Hard-Luck Red State Sweetheart” seems like a stretch to me.

Her regrettable attempt at a pan-Southern accent makes that clear, though I also thought the praise she earned for her “convincing” British accent in Emma and earlier fare was overblown. But the more I think on it, the more the movie may have accidentally touched on the inherent constructedness of a celebrity’s persona. Country music is particularly interesting to me, as it is a genre that turns authenticity and grittiness into fetish items but, like rock and hip hop, is peopled by glamorous characters who profess to be “just folks.” Thus, it’s quite telling how much Paltrow is styled to resemble an older version of Taylor Swift, country pop’s reigning princess of prefabricated candor.

Taylor Swift; image courtesy of guardian.co.uk

I also find Paltrow and Meester’s dalliances with pop music important to read into their performances here. Before it stalled at the box office, Duets was intended to transition Paltrow into a singing career. Her scheduled appearance on Glee this season may be further indication of a continued desire to sing. Meester is currently signed to Universal Republic and has released several singles, including “Good Girls Go Bad” with Cobra Starship.   

But the trailer looks like yet another hackneyed attempt at drama’s redemptive celebrity narrative that’s not going to win Paltrow the second Oscar she might be shopping for. To add to which, we have the regressive subplot of Canter fearing that younger Stanton will abscond with her legacy and possibly her man. While I do think intergenerational relationships between professional women are be interesting, having Canter storm past Stanton after a triumphant performance to let her know “how it’s done” is familiarly regressive execution. Canter may learn that the bottle won’t save her, but she is probably taught by her husband than helped by the sisterhood.

2 comments

  1. TheBadassMuppet

    You’ve said it well, Alyx; from the trailer, I suspect that “Country Strong” will either be an Academy darling which I find hollow (like “Atonement”) or a formulaic flick which will alienate critics with its obvious pandering to the Academy (like “A Good Year.”) Either way, I’m not likely to be interested, especially as I personally find neither Paltrow nor country music compelling.

    I highly recommend “Easy A,” though. While not perfect, it’s one of my favorite flicks so far this year.

  2. c8ic8

    I am so glad you mentioned “Duets,” because that’s the first thing that came to mind when I read your description of “Country Strong.” I feel that Gwyneth Paltrow has always really struggled to develop any kind of relatable star persona for the very reasons you mentioned above, and this film drives that home more than ever.

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