Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin debate the merits of Country Strong.
Richard Crouse: The first line of Country Strong’s catchiest song, Give Into Me, is “I’m gonna wear you down,” and sure enough the movie did wear me down in the last 30 minutes. For the first hour or so I thought the film had as much authentic country spirit as a Muzak version of a Hank Williams song, but it finally won me over.
Mark Breslin: Really? It never won me over, it just got worse as it ambled from cliché to cliché. Did we really need a remake of Crazy Heart? Although I must admit that Gwyneth looks better in a short skirt than Jeff Bridges ever could.
RC: I admit the script is thick enough with clichés to choke Roy Rogers’ horse and it has the blandest direction this side of Hee Haw, but I was won over by Garrett Hedlund. He walks away with the movie, stealing it outright from Gwyneth Paltrow, who can’t be down home no matter how hard she tries.
MB: You’re right about Hedlund. And I actually didn’t mind Tim McGraw. But it’s Gwyneth’s movie to win or lose, and she’s horribly miscast. Why not Faith Hill? Or get a Judd—any Judd. By the way, what kind of rehab facility lets you wear a half million dollars of bling as you kick alcohol?
RC: That necklace bugged me too! I get not taking off the giant wedding ring, but no matter what she was doing — throwing up in a garbage can, staggering around backstage — I was distracted by the glitter around her neck. She has a couple of moments though — a nice scene with a Make-A-Wish child and a drunken backseat conversation with Chiles — but the character is so thinly written there’s very little for her or the audience to hang onto.
MB: Sorry, but I found that the scene with “Leukemia Kid” was the most exploitative part of the movie. I did like her advice scene with her young rival, which played out quite realistically for me. But the script was so full of inadvertent howlers that the flick will do for country music what Showgirls did for lap dancing.
RC: It is manipulative, too long and while I liked it more than you, I thought that despite its downbeat subject matter — the flipside of fame, alcoholism and jilted love — it wasn’t quite authentically hurtin’ enough to qualify as real country.