With a thinly drawn story and an overwhelming reliance on clichés, Country Strong never manages to move beyond the emotional range of a decent Hallmark card. Though the original music (all the actors sing their own songs) is enjoyable, the formulaic tale is so scattered and the dialogue so uninspired that it's impossible to engage on any level beyond the occasional guilty pleasure of soap opera histrionics.
When country music superstar Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) attempts to rebuild her career after a drunken collapse on stage, her quietly insistent manager/husband (Tim McGraw) pulls her out of a rehab clinic for a comeback tour. On the road, Kelly is joined by two young performers: Chiles (Leighton Meester), a manicured former beauty queen turned country music starlet, and Beau (Garrett Hedlund), a rough-around-the-edges singer/songwriter.
The film (Rated PG-13 for alcohol abuse and some sexual content) follows Kelly's attempts to perform while she battles alcoholism, the loss of a child, and her crumbling marriage. Heaping fuel on the fire, Kelly embarks on an affair with Beau, whose presence seems tailor-made to remind both Kelly and the viewers what "real" country music is all about. But as Beau jumps from romancing Kelly to seducing Chiles, his character's lack of any genuine complexity or moral compass both disappoints and distracts from this contrived story.
Writer/director Shana Feste's story does finally strike a chord of truth in its exposure of the damaging effects of fame. True joy, the film asserts, is in the artistic expression itself and not in the size of the audience. But just as you're thinking there might be some merit to this mess, the emotional manipulations return with the delicacy of a sledgehammer. Ultimately, you're better off renting Coal Miner's Daughter than taking a trip to the theaters for this overblown movie.