A star has bombed

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

YOU HAVE TO look back to the dark days of the Streisand regime to en­counter van­ity film-mak­ing of this enor­mity. To be fair to Gwyneth Pal­trow, she is not mak­ing any mis­guided ef­forts to strip away the decades.

If any­thing, at 38, the stringy one is a bit young to play a dru­gad­dled, booze-mar­i­nated coun­tryand-west­ern vet­eran. The only way to de­ter those ad­mirable di­vas from mak­ing one last come­back is to se­cure the cof­fin with sea-go­ing riv­ets. But re­ally? You may as well cast Mickey Rourke as El­iz­a­beth Bennett.

Yet an­other re­tread of All About Eve and, yes, A Star Is Born (with Pal­trow in the se­nior role), Coun­try Strong be­gins with the pro­tag­o­nist, Pal­trow’s Kelly Can­ter, re­cov­er­ing from seven or eight ad­dic­tions in an up­mar­ket re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity. Her hus­band and man­ager, James (Tim McGraw), wants her to get back on the road. Beau Hut­ton (Gar­rett Hed­lund), her younger, gui­tarstrum­ming “men­tor” – is that what they call them these days, dar­ling? – feels that a fur­ther pe­riod in his ten­der lov­ing care is re­quired.

Mr Can­ter wins the ar­gu­ment and a new tour is un­veiled. Beau, a self­de­scribed out­law mu­si­cian, and Chiles Stan­ton (Leighton Meester), a pop-coun­try singer in the vein of Kelly Clark­son, are drafted in as sup­port. Be­fore too long, Kelly is top­pling off the stage and the young ty­ros are mop­ping up the sur­plus limelight.

Even if the pro­duc­ers had cast a cred­i­ble lead, the script’s un­cer­tainty about the char­ac­ters’ moral­ity would have ren­dered the pro­ject close to un­work­able.

Beau is hav­ing it away with Kelly at the same time as he’s mov­ing in on Chiles. One minute James is a mer­ci­less Colonel Tom Parker; the next he’s a sen­si­tive, wronged good old boy. Chiles can’t de­cide if she’s a mo­ron or the next Su­san Son­tag. You don’t of­ten en­counter this level of slip­pery char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion out­side aus­tere Ger­man films of the early 1970s.

Kelly Can­tor is, of course, sup­posed to be a sa­cred mon­ster. Un­for­tu­nately, un­like the per­for­mances of Bette Davis in All About Eve or James Ma­son in A Star Is Born, not even the tini­est par­ti­cle of charm tem­pers the iras­ci­bil­ity and un­re­li­a­bil­ity. Few episodes in re­cent cin­ema have been quite so ac­ci­den­tally hi­lar­i­ous as the se­quence that finds Pal­trow, art­fully di­shev­elled on the floor of a spacious wardrobe, wav­ing a vodka bot­tle at her wor­ried sup­port­ers. The im­pres­sion given is of a public­school­girl cop­ing badly with her first hunt ball.

Pal­trow’s singing is ad­e­quate, but it’s not nearly good enough to jus­tify the char­ac­ter’s ap­par­ent iconic sta­tus or to ex­plain why, on first hear­ing her, James (whose def­i­ni­tion of di­vin­ity seems fairly un­de­mand­ing) de­cided “that’s what an­gels sound like”.

Why did Pal­trow do it? Well, Jeff Bridges won an Os­car for play­ing the same part in Crazy Heart. A Razzie could well await Gwyneth early next year.

Dime­store cow­girl: Pal­trow

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