FILM REVIEW: COUNTRY STRONG (12A)

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In recent years, Gwyneth Paltrow has devoted little time to the big screen, preferring instead to concentrate on raising her kids, writing her online lifestyle newsletter Goop and working on her headline-grabbing body.

She remains one of the most in-demand actresses though, which means she also spends a lot of her time rejecting the many scripts sent her way.

Country Strong is one of the rare ones that received the nod of approval.

Set in the glitzy, drama-fuelled world of country music, Paltrow plays superstar singer Kelly Canter, a woman who’s battling her inner demons and the bottle.

Following a stint in rehab, she embarks on a three-date tour orchestrated by her husband and manager James (played by country star Tim McGraw in the only non-singing lead role), that’s supposed to mark her great career comeback.

Only things don’t pan out as planned.

Canter can’t keep her hands off the spirits, or soulful singer Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund who can work a Stetson like no other), a man she met at rehab and who joins the tour as one of her opening acts.

The addition of the young prom queen-turned-singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), who joins the tour at James’s insistence, only serves to put his marriage under further strain.

As the foursome hit the road it soon becomes clear their story is going to be beset by conflict - and one too many cliches.

The lead actors do their best with what they’ve been given and Paltrow in particular puts in a strong performance as the alcoholic star, successfully portraying vulnerability and diva-ish tendencies, even if she does look suspiciously fresh faced for a woman on the brink.

As demonstrated at the Oscars, when she sang Coming Home from the film’s soundtrack, Paltrow also has the pipes to pull off the big country numbers.

It’s just a shame the focus of the film shifts from Paltrow and Hedlund’s understated yet sizzling relationship, to that of the blossoming, yet unbelievable, romance between Hedlund and Meester.

It’s the script and direction that ultimately let the cast down and the blame can only be laid at the feet of the film’s writer and director Shana Feste.

This is only her second feature and it shows.

Instead of rich, complex and fully developed characters, you’re left with caricature-driven melodrama.

It’s entertaining but because you don’t sympathise with the characters, you don’t really care what happens to them.

For that reason the film makes for forgettable viewing - unlike the film’s toe-tapping tunes that you will be humming long after the credits have rolled.

By Susan Griffin

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10

Released: March 25 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas), 117 mins.