Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on 9-11. Volunteer today




Movies for Grownups


Caucasian couple looking at a laptop computer together


Virgo - AARP Horoscope

Look at what your future holds if your birthday is between August 23 & September 22


The tablet with free 24/7 customer support. Learn More

Most Popular


Review: Country Strong

Paltrow's musical hits only a few good notes

Movie Review: Country Strong

James (Tim McGraw, center right) approaches Kelly (Gwyneth Paltrow, center left) for a dance in the swirl of the classroom in Country Strong. — Courtesy Screen Gems


Rated PG-13
Runtime: 112 mins.

En español  |  If ever there were a sucker for country music, it would be me.  I’ve got Go Country 105 on my radio, a pair of well-worn Tony Lama dancing boots in my closet and Sugarland lyrics in my head. It’s the soulful, honest-to-goodness achy-breaky stuff I’m drawn to — which is why Country Strong, a movie about a country music star battling alcoholism and its shattering effects on her marriage, should have made me Fall to Pieces.  Instead, the time on my watch was Always on My Mind.

The film opens with been-around-the-block mega-chanteuse (think Shania Twain or Faith Hill) Kelly Canter, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, doing some impromptu songwriting with an up-and-coming musician named Beau Hutton (the delicious Garrett Hedlund, most recently seen in TRON: Legacy, who kicks ass in this character). Hutton is moonlighting as a janitor at the facility where Kelly is being treated for alcoholism, and he has befriended her. This clearly isn’t her first time in rehab, and we soon learn that a year earlier, inebriated during a performance in Dallas, she took a fall and suffered a miscarriage at five months pregnant.  This is a story about addiction, but unlike last year’s Crazy Heart, we never learn what fuels the main character’s self-destructive spiral, nor do we come away with a better understanding of the complexities of substance abuse itself.

Part of the problem is that from the moment Canter’s husband/manager James (played by real-life country star Tim McGraw) gets Kelly out of rehab a month early, purportedly so that she can reclaim her reputation with a three-city tour (including a sure-to-be-painful repeat performance in Dallas), the movie takes up a handful of other story lines, none of them with any particular panache. Writer/director Shana Feste (The Greatest) handles the decline of Kelly and James’s marriage with about as much subtlety as Dr. Phil would. In bed on the eve before setting out on their concert tour, Kelly attempts to seduce James by informing him that she’s just had a Brazilian bikini wax, to which he responds, “I just took an Ambien. See you in eight hours.” Surely there are more nuanced ways to communicate disappointment and regret.

Other subplots center on the corrupting influences of the music industry — and of fame itself. Kelly comes alive before an audience, but she has lost who she is in her stage persona. She’s a commodity first in the eyes of her stereotypical promoter JJ (Jeremy Childs) — and even in those of her husband, who while trying to salvage his wife’s career is also busy exploiting the next new phenom, a Taylor Swift–type singer/songwriter played by Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl. In doing so, he launches the potential for — surprise! — multiple love triangles.  All the characters represent industry types, and they’re all clichés. Better films such as The Bodyguard, A Star is Born  and Walk the Line prove that the biz may be rough-and-tumble, but it’s not as black-and-white as all that.

In the end, perhaps Country Strong’s saving grace is the music.  Surely Gwyneth Paltrow overlooked this project’s obvious flaws for a chance at a musical challenge. But ironically, the film’s theme song doesn’t best showcase Paltrow’s vocal chops; they are most beautifully on display when she sings a cappella, or with just an acoustic guitar to back her up. In truth, the best song to come out of Country Strong is the duet Meester and Hedlund perform called “Give In To Me.” Country’s strength is, in fact, its honest and tender portrayal of human weakness — something “Give In To Me” reveals, and something these filmmakers overlooked.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Your Scoop on Cinema

Movies for Grownups is focused on films with distinct relevance to a 50-plus audience. In reviews, previews and interviews, we look for actors and themes that speak to the experiences of older moviegoers. Find more about us on:


100 Must-See Movies for Grownups

100 Must-See Movies for Grownups

By Bill Newcott
January 2015

A treasure trove of delightfully offbeat recommendations for discerning moviegoers, from the beginnings of film right up the present.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Live Nation

Members save 25% or more when buying tickets in groups of four from Ticketmaster.

Cirque Du Soleil

Members save 15-30% on tickets to live Cirque du Soleil shows.

Regal Movies Popcorn and Soda, Member Benefits

Members can save $3 on any size popcorn and soft drink combo at Regal Cinemas.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points