A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Gwyneth Paltrow country music drama involves many mature issues that may not be appropriate for young teens -- including alcohol abuse, rehab, relapses, prescription-pill addiction, infidelity, and depression. A couple of scenes show couples about to have or having sex, but there's no nudity beyond a bare shoulder or back. Language gets stronger in the second half of the film, which features many more instances of "s--t," "a--hole," and their derivatives. Overall, the movie offers a strong warning about the consequences of alcohol abuse, but an even more central message is that love and fame don't always go hand in hand -- and that love should always win between the two.
What's the story?
Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a six-time-Grammy-winning country music sensation -- but she's also an ugly drunk who was so intoxicated at a fateful Dallas concert that she ended up causing her own miscarriage. The movie's story begins almost a year later, as Kelly is prematurely withdrawn from rehab by her slick husband/manager, James (Tim McGraw), who's planned a multi-city tour culminating in a comeback Dallas appearance. James has lined up a young former beauty queen, Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), to open for Kelly, but Kelly insists that Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), her "sponsor" from rehab who's also a singer-songwriter, come along as well. The four of them set off on the ill-timed tour, only to discover that Kelly isn't better at all and Chiles is more than she seems. Ultimately, if she can't overcome her demons, Kelly could lose not only her fans' loyalty but also her viability as a country superstar.
Is it any good?
Paltrow is believable as a superstar country singer who acts tough but is quite fragile. Her portrayal isn't a revelation like Sissy Spacek's unforgettable turn as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter, but between Paltrow's fantastic guest spot on Glee and this leading role, the Academy Award winner has been doing a great job of reminding audiences she can act and sing. A couple of scenes with McGraw feel more forced than intimate, and there are more than a few predictably maudlin monologues and conversations, but there's no denying that Paltrow is a powerful presence on-screen.
All of that said, the emotional core of COUNTRY STRONG is definitely Hedlund, who plays a young singer unwilling to sell out with an intensity and vulnerability that was lacking in his performance in TRON: Legacy. His is the movie's only truly redeeming character -- a man who sees Kelly for who she is and is actually worried about her in a way that her own husband can't muster. Even more surprising is that Hedlund sang his own songs, just like Paltrow. Meester, meanwhile, nails the sugary-sweet public persona that hides the desperate ambition of a young woman who wants a big career. Still, despite the impressive singing and strong performances, some of the dialogue and plot turns are too hammy to make this a four- or five-star film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's central message about love versus fame. Which wins out in the end? Do you think that they can't co-exist?
How does the movie portray the consequences of drinking? Do you think it's a realistic depiction? What did Kelly's alcoholism cost her personally and professionally?
How does this movie -- which is about a fictional singer -- compare to dramas you've seen about real-life stars? Are there any musicians that Kelly, Beau, or Chiles remind you of?
- In theaters: January 7, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: April 12, 2011
- Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leighton Meester, Tim McGraw
- Director: Shana Feste
- Studio: Screen Gems
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content
For kids who love music
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.