“Country Strong” has no protagonist, no conflict and no discernible storyline.

“Country Strong”

At Quality 16 and Rave
Screen Gems

Garrett Hedlund gives perhaps the best performance in “Country Strong,” directed by Shana Feste (“The Greatest”). And, despite his recent blitz of the big screen in “TRON: Legacy” and now this film, despite his curious casting as Dean Moriarty in an upcoming film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s novel, “On The Road,” Hedlund just isn’t a very good actor.

Nor, anymore, is Gwyneth Paltrow (“Iron Man 2”). Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, who is billed as this film’s main character, but is really its main distraction. Tim McGraw (“The Blind Side”), who plays James Canter (Kelly’s husband), is definitely not the film’s protagonist, but he’s most respectable character of the bunch — if only because someone has to be. That is, while all the other characters either cheat on their significant others or abuse alcohol, drugs or their fans, James Canter only hints at doing these things.

The only major mistake Canter makes is ripping his country star wife out of rehab too early and forcing her into a tour she doesn’t want to do, which ruins everything about her life that she hadn’t already destroyed.

But movies overcome the fact that they don’t center around one protagonist, hero or anti-hero all the time. So why is “Country Strong” such a steaming pile of shit? Well, in addition to not having a character worth caring about, this film doesn’t have a plot.

Yes, films can get by without having clear, central narratives too, but not when they don’t have a main character for us. A film needs to have at least one of those two fundamental things: a plot, or an engrossing main character to follow while he or she meanders around the world. A movie can’t be missing both of these things and be considered good.

It’s like football. You have to be able to run well or pass well to win a football game. If you can do both, you’re in good shape. And while you can get away with only being good at one aspect of the game, if you can’t do either you’ve just got to punt.

And this movie is a punt that gets blocked and returned for a touchdown.

The viewer is almost left with no choice but to hate “Country Strong” because of how little it seems to care about itself. Paltrow cries, Hedlund stares pensively out the window and McGraw does all he can to subtly deliver his cheesy lines in every scene.

A small saving grace for the film is its inclusion of “Gossip Girl” ’s Leighton Meester, who plays an up-and-coming country singer who’s supposed to somehow inform our understanding of the initial innocence of Kelly Canter’s troubled life as a famous person. All Meester ends up doing, however, is lip-syncing, looking hot and sounding stupid. But at least watching her have sex isn’t as uncomfortable as watching Paltrow, or any other lady your mom’s age, do the same.

“Country Strong” promises to turn more people away from country music than any film in recent memory. There aren’t enough jokes to consider it a comedy, enough genuine emotions to make it a drama or enough words to describe how much you’ll hate yourself for paying to see it.

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