As soon as the ads for this movie started running, I was like, “Gwynnie as a boozing country star desperate for a comeback? FROMAGE.” And Country Strong, though not nearly as fun-bad as I wanted it to be, totally should have been on Lifetime. I can’t believe they hooked a big-screen release and actual name actors, because you’d be as likely to see it on cable starring one of those hot Stults twins from 7th Heaven and, like, Jennifer Love Hewitt. But you know who you have to thank for it being a theater release?
Just in case you wondered what Spider Man was up to now that his franchise is being rebooted with someone else: He is Gwyneth’s enabler.
So: Country Strong. It stars Garrett Hedlund, of Tron Legacy, and Leighton Meester of Gossip Girl, and Tim McGraw of Tim McGraw, and Gwyneth Paltrow of everything. Let’s pick it up with Garrett, who plays Beau, a down-home country boy whose whiskers are mangier than a Dumpster cat.
By night he plays his songs in honky-tonk bars just for the pure love of his craft, by day he works at a rehab facility, by which I mean, “flirts with and has sex with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, who is a patient.” They don’t state this explicitly, but there are subtle clues: No. 1, his boss tells him to stay away from Gwynnie’s room; no. 2, they are jokingly co-writing a song about the first time they met; and No. 3, Gwynnie is doing this:
She is also wearing lingerie, which we can’t see here. And almost no makeup, and yet she is still pretty, which is the first fallacy. Any washed-up drying-out music star who is in danger of being past her prime would not look like a spring morning when she’s lying around her rehab suite. She would look like you tried to sober her up by scrubbing her against a washboard and then hanging her up on a clothespin without the medicinal aid of caffeine. Presumably the two of them are rehabbing her through music. If J.Lo.Hew is a Kind Toucher, then Beau is Kind Singing her to health.
Anyway, they’re mooning over each other and trading a guitar back and forth and panting the hook of their song, “timing is everything,” when WHAT DO YOU KNOW, Tim McGraw storms in (timing!) and we learn he is Gwynnie’s husband. These two are super smooth about the interruption, even though nothing ACTUALLY was happening in that moment — like, they LEAP apart despite already being sort of apart, and he starts tucking in his shirt even though he wasn’t taking it off, and they get all wide-eyed and twittery even though they were only eye-screwing and not actual-screwing. So Tim gets all Manly Man and possessive, even though they were all, “Hey, we were only Kind Singing.”
And he bosses Beau around, and Gwynnie claims that Beau is just her sponsor, and blah blah blah Beau is sent packing — sort of mulishly, I might add, considering she has a husband and he was just having filthy thoughts about where to put his hands on her guitar — and Tim and Gwynnie go outside for a chat in the wilderness. We learn he’s gotten a doctor to declare her all better even though she has another month of treatment, and she’s going back out on tour to Houston, Austin, and Dallas — Dallas is a dun-dun-DUNNNNN moment for her — immediately. She’s nervous. She wants Beau to be her opening act. She says it will help her. Tim is all, “Why don’t we just ask the GARDENER?” Don’t judge the gardener’s talents, Tim. You don’t know his life. Tim pretends they will cancel the whole thing if she’s not ready. And then the movie lays this metaphor on us:
See, Gwynnie found an abandoned baby bird with no mother, and she rescued it and is taking care of it in this constricting little box. Tim takes it from her and says he’ll take care of it for her during the tour, and the profundity of this metaphor — she is the bird! Her career is the box! He is… himself! — bowls her over and she agrees to go on the tour, because I guess she looks at this and thinks, “Wow, that bird has a whole wooden BOX with GRASS IN IT to itself, how awesome,” and not, “Man, it must reek of bird droppings and nature in there, how stifling.”
Anyway, GOOP decides she will feel better if she puts on some eyeliner.
This will prove to be her downfall, because the rest of the movie it will spend half its time running down her face. We get some major Exposition Eyes as she leaves rehab and her jerkwad driver plays a news report about it over the radio, where we learn that she was put there because she got hammered and fell off the stage in Dallas while she was five-months pregnant, and of course lost the baby. Well. That was a shitty thing to do, Gwynnie. Never drink and gestate.
Meanwhile, our hairy protagonist has shown up for his usual gig, and bursts into the dressing room to find out that Leighton Meester is in there, getting ready to sing.
I love this photo, accidentally caught during the frame change. Now, this is going to shock you, but the origin of their animosity is never explained. She’s an ex-beauty queen trying to have a country career, he apparently hooks up with her roommate sometimes, and yet he’s hella-angry she’s going on stage that night even though her singing is not cutting down his set in any way, so… what is his beef? Perhaps it is in his trousers. Leighton says that Tim McGraw arranged the gig so he can audition her as GOOP’s new opening act. And the following actually happens:
BEAU: Bull shit.
LEIGHTON: BULL TRUE.
ME: THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. I’m going to start using it immediately.
Leighton, of course, has a history of stage fright. So Beau settles back to watch her sing, and sure enough, she totally whiffs it. And then he feels bad, so he strolls up there with his gee-tar and gets her singing Garth Brooks with him so that she’s confident again.
It’s enough for Tim McGraw to decide both Leighton AND Beau can be the openers for Gwynnie, and he and Beau have a big scene outside where Beau smokes defiantly and Tim is all, “Come on, SPONSOR, be there for [GOOP],” and of course he knows and we know that Beau being her sponsor is so NOT bull true. It’s like not even calf-embryo-true.
Afterward, Gwynnie and Tim lie in bed. She asks a bunch of needy questions about whether he thinks Leighton is pretty, and whether he still thinks she herself is talented, and Tim gives her unconvincing but correct answers. She then tries to tempt him into sex by noting that she got a Brazilian, and he’s all, “I just took an Ambien,” but they both lie awake facing away from each other so you know that’s not bull true, either, although her Brazilian is probably as bull real as it comes. The point: Their love is strained, and we’re supposed to think maybe he’s going to trade her in for a newer model.
Gwynnie even goes so far as to sign a CD for Leighton with an ominous warning:
Also, who designs her album covers? A six-year old with Print Shop?
So, Beau and Leighton and their bands are in a crappy tour van, and Gwynnie is in a fancy bus. And she and Tim go out to dinner in Houston, where she’s desperate to reconnect with him, so she wears this:
Great idea, GOOP. I think Bette Midler wore that in Ruthless People. Always a good seduction plan. The bra strap is particularly alluring. It lets him know he’s got WORK TO DO under there. There’s a boring scene where she stares wistfully at a happy couple and they briefly pretend to reminisce about the time she got a press-on nail stuck in his meatloaf — not a euphemism — and then she’s all wistful and sad because he only wants to talk business. And he’s ignoring the fact that she wants this one particular song, “Coming Home,” as her closing number. Tim is dumb. Isn’t this her comeback tour? After rehab? Does he not understand that “Coming Home” would be, like, cover-of-People symbolic? Has he never watched Lifetime?
Houston. Opening night. Beau goes in to see Gwynnie and she makes everyone leave, then drags him into a corner, looks him right in the facial hair, and begs him not to sleep with anyone else on the tour.
He points out that she sleeps with Tim McGraw, but she swears it’s not like that and “we haven’t even kissed with our mouths open in years.” Or something. I don’t know. I can’t get invested in where either of those people puts his/her tongue. Beau agrees to her demand and kisses her with his mouth open. She brings everyone else back in — yes, this wasn’t suspicious at all, Gwynnie — and then pops some pills and sasses something about wanting Tim to come in so he can see that he’s the luckiest man in all of country music. Instead of realizing that maybe she is a lunatic who is only toying with him because she has Deep Problems, Beau trots outside and catches Tim being all happy-go-laughy with Leighton:
Beau tells Tim about the pills, and Tim gets all angry because Beau is an INTERLOPER — an interloper you asked to come along and interlope, by the way, Tim — and snarls that he measured out those pills for Gwynnie himself.
Seriously, he all but yelled, “I’ve worn HATS bigger’n you.” So we’re supposed to think that maybe Tim McGraw is medicating Gwynnie to control her, while also maybe working toward getting in Leighton’s trousers. When Tim won’t come to her, Gwynnie goes and sees his rapport with Leighton with her own eyes, and is all bummed out:
If I had a shot for every time Gwynnie wears this expression in this movie, I’d be in rehab getting sung at by a hairy orderly by now. But her hair is majestic, dammit.
Apparently, though, we need to shovel more plot into this ditch. So Gwyneth goes BACK to getting ready and then someone delivers her a package, which she opens herself, because the FIRST thing your handlers let you do when you’re in hair and makeup before your big night back on stage post-rehab is to open strange presents that nobody has looked at first. The gift is a macabre one:
The sign says, “Baby Killer.” Gwynnie is alarmed. Tim McGraw comes in and acts marginally upset and takes it away, to the point where I actually wondered if we were going to find out he orchestrated the whole thing to mess with her and get her locked up for good. SPOILER: That is not the case. It would have been a way better movie, though. Maybe that’s why this isn’t on cable. It wasn’t juicy enough. It was actually Too Crappy For Lifetime.
You will not be surprised to learn how Gwynnie copes with the ketchup-covered doll:
Beau — who was on-stage when she hit the bottle, and by the way, he only did one song and it was slow and dull, which is really poor use of his Kind Singing time — wants into her vodka closet, but she screams that she wants her husband because she loves him, dammit, and her eyeliner agrees. Beau is like, fine. I can’t tell how he feels because he’s impassive or pitying but very little in between. Is he hurt, is he annoyed, is he worried? Yes. And no. His facial hair is electric, though.
Tim McGraw, conversely, is so upset he can’t even look at her.
Dude, seriously, you didn’t see this coming? I think there was a note under the baby in the box that said, “See you in the vodka closet in half an hour. Bring breath mints and Cetaphil.”
GOOP weeps that every time she thinks they’re getting over Dallas — NOT DALLAS! — something happens to remind them. Tim is all, “I could never forget Dallas,” in much the same tone as Liz from Passions used to gasp, “I could never forget THE SHED,” after the talking hate candle made her break into it and learn TC’s violent secret. Bull true. I wish there were a talking hate candle in this movie. Or even just a silent, flickering candle of mild disdain. Also:
I’m sorry, but no. If our heroine is in a dress that short, and she’s also fallen off the wagon so hard that she’s sprawled on the floor of a closet lamenting her sad life, she would not be folding her legs in a ladylike manner while gently covering her crotch. She’d be a legs-akimbo, Brazilian-flag-flying mess. And she would not still be wearing those shoes, no matter how awesome they are. Those would’ve gotten thrown at someone. Gwynnie does at least slap Tim McGraw for trying to force her on-stage, and then begs him for an open-mouthed kiss that he sags out of after about two seconds, presumably because kissing her is like kissing a gas pump at this point.
Unsurprisingly, Gwynnie goes out on stage and is too drunk to keep singing, plus she’s thrown off by seeing the crowd’s happy reaction to Leighton. So she rubs her face and staggers around giving a speech about how purty the starry sky looks and how gush-durned peaceful and happy it would be to live on a star, and everyone is like, OH LORD.
Even her backup singers cannot withhold their BITCH PLEASE faces when Gwynnie needs to sit down and take a breather. She decides to sing a different song, “The Fighter,” because all her songs (“The Fighter,” “Country Strong”) have Deep Personal Undertones, And Also Overtones. When she warbles through to the chorus, I shit you not, American flags roll down from the ceiling.
She goes totally mute and then bursts into tears and Tim McGraw escorts her off-stage as the crowd booes. Houston 1, Gwynnie 0, Beau’s Kind Singing, -25.
Beau and Tim squabble about how Beau fell down on the job, and Beau is all, I can’t help it that I was on stage, busy NOT falling down on my ACTUAL job, when this INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS PLOT TWIST happened. He sasses that his advice to Tim for how to fix it is not to take her out of rehab before the actual rehab part. OH SNAP. That is the bullest truest thing I have ever heard. Let’s give Beau a moment to stomp off in a smug haze.
His beard is like, “Tim’s wins at fullness; I WIN AT LIFE.”
So, y’all, Gwynnie is depressed. And we know this because she’s gone all W spread on us.
Actually, maybe make that Rolling Stone:
Her publicist sets up a Make A Wish thing in Austin to help patch up the fact that she just melted down on-stage in Houston, but Gwyneth would rather lie there and be all sad about how she’s in a fur coat but no pants, because her life is so HARD, because it’s really a challenge when people think you drank while pregnant and then acted carelessly and your baby died, when in fact what happened is you drank while pregnant and then acted carelessly and your baby died. (Are we ever going to get a backstory on this that makes it seem less egregious?) Rough times for our heroine.
Meanwhile, Beau and Leighton have that “oh get a room already” moment where she’s quizzing herself with flash cards in the tour van and he teases her about wanting to be smarter.
They’re doing this whole thing where she’s Real and Cool Leighton when she wears less makeup and Fame-Hungry Leighton when she wears more. It’s super deep. Also, in this photo, she’s giving good “Gwyneth is crazy” face. Beau is all, “She’s not crazy. She’s the only honest one here.” Yes. She honestly got drunk and fell off the stage while five months pregnant. That’s so admirably forthright of her. I mean, shit happens and let the rehab system do its thing, and whatnot, but we’re getting to the point in the movie where I think we all either want a root cause of her being a troubled woman, or we want her to pull it together. The self-pity doesn’t really work when she actually did something sort of terrible. It’s not the ’60s. People in this movie’s era know what happens when you get hammered while your womb is fruited.
So, there’s a press conference in Austin, and Gwynnie is asked about Dallas. NOT DALLAS! She says JR and Sue Ellen are made for each other and that Pam should’ve stayed dead. No, actually, says she’s hoping to change her sad history with that city and repeats the cover story that she got food poisoning in Houston. She gets bummed out watching the press eat out of Leighton’s hand — for some reason Beau, despite being on the bill, does not even go to the press conference — and so Beau decides to take her away for something exciting.
TRAIN JUMPING. They hop on a train and ride it. This seems like a bad plan, and also a lot less fun than shoe-shopping. Do you know where it’s going? Where are you going to get off it? How are you going to guarantee you can get back to your car? Why does his beard look like burned crops? Am I the only grown-up here?
Meanwhile, Tim McGraw is with Leighton in the recording studio and the songwriter decides SHE should sing “Coming Home,” and not Gwynnie. And while he is being professionally unfaithful with Leighton…
… G-money is being personally unfaithful with Beau. So Beau wisely chooses this time to dump Gwynnie… BECAUSE SHE’S MARRIED. She rightly points out that she has always been married and he didn’t have a problem beefing her steak before, so why now? Especially after he has JUST plumbed her pipes. She is ticked off that he got the goods one last time before deciding this was all a bad idea and schlumps out of his room in her towel. Carrying her panties. As you do.
She tells Tim she “got dirty” while out with Beau and had to shower. He knows what this means. So he sits on the bed and feeds the bird in the box — bull true, it’s right there in his hand — while the bird is over there feeling all guilty because it just got righteously fed by some other dude. And nobody cares about GOOP’s sad cold marriage because Tim McGraw hasn’t laid a hand on Leighton and meanwhile Gwynnie is romping around with young flesh and getting hammered. So basically she kind of sucks and a lot of this is her own fault.
Beau licks his wounds by going to visit Leighton. They joke about him letting her finish writing a song for him — he thinks all her songs are pop crap and she swears she could write good stuff — and then they get drunk watching Miss America and she does his hair.
This, naturally, leads to him daring her to show him her pageant faces, including the swimsuit part, so she strips down to her underwear and he does too so that she feels equal, and they’re totally about to do a duet in the talent competition when Tim knocks on her door. Beau leaves — he clearly suspects something — and we think maybe THIS is when Tim is going to get Handsy McGroper on Leighton, but instead he tells her that she’s being promoted in the paper as the new Carrie Underwood. Let me tell you the problem with this storyline: Leighton Meester, while beautiful, cannot actually sing very well. She has no unique quality to her voice, sounds Pro Tooled a little, and has no vibrato — which is not a requirement, but it also often is what gives a singer’s pipes some character and awe factor, so when you’re trying to hit a glory note and you DON’T have one, it often sounds like you’re a dying sheep. So mostly, we’re to believe Leighton is the next superstar, when in fact she shouts and bleats most of her songs. It doesn’t track. Say what you will about GOOP, but she does — as my English dad would’ve said — give it some welly.
The next morning, Beau is cold to Leighton for kicking him out of her room in favor of Tim, whom he clearly thinks she banged. She hands him his song, which she finished, and stalks off. His bandmates are like, “You suck dude.” They’re right. Meanwhile, Gwyneth finds Beau in a bar and takes him to the studio as a way of making up with him, so he can record a track. Tim is surprised to see her there, and Gwyneth gapes, appalled, at what she sees:
Well, what she’s actually gaping at is Leighton singing “Coming Home,” the song she wanted. But she SHOULD be gaping at Leighton’s dress, which looks like a sister-wife who accidentally washed the afghan with her dress whites. Seriously, I think I saw that on a microscope slide in ninth grade biology, or oozing out of a corpse on Bones. You know who would’ve made this movie better? Boreanaz. I know he’s sort of a dog in real life, but Seeley Booth would’ve ridden in on the bull true and then made us laugh about it.
Gwyneth copes with this news the same way she copes with everything:
It is egregious that nobody on this tour — which is full of people and includes some kind of den mother — has introduced her to waterproof mascara. So, she’s hiding in the bathroom sniffling and snorting, and Tim McGraw decides that the way to cheer her up is this:
HE HANDS HER THE BIRD UNDER THE STALL. The bird is like, “Hey, wait, now it smells like a toilet both in here AND out there.” Tim sends Gwynnie back to the hotel with the bird, which ostensibly cheers her up; he and Beau them have a discussion about how Tim didn’t always used to “dance for her,” and he doesn’t know when she got so fragile. Well, hell, if HE doesn’t know, and he’s her manager/husband, then I do not have high hopes that the movie will solve this mystery for us.
Gwynnie copes with THIS meltdown by going to church and doing community service and hydrating responsibly.
Wait, sorry, no, she goes to a bar and gets smashed and allows a camera to shoot up her nose in red light. Beau, who spends all his time in this movie either standing around and letting people emote all over him OR chasing after Gwynnie, goes to her trailer. The den mother lady, whose function is never explained, says Gwynnie told her she was going to pick up Beau. Tricksy! This is insanity. You know she is a massive liability, you know she’s off the wagon, and you are on a tour that has A BAJILLION PEOPLE ON IT. And she gets away? BULL UNTRUE. So Beau hones in on a trashy bar and finds her dancing on it, and drags her outside and makes Leighton come get them in a cab. Then he awesomely chucks Gwynnie in the back seat so that her head plops on Leighton’s lap.
Gwynnie then has some terrible speech about how Leighton “is just somebody’s daughter, ain’t ya,” or something, as if Gwynnie is 93. The two of them have the world’s dumbest conversation about how Leighton’s mother wouldn’t let her pierce her ears with cubic zirconia stars, and… it’s really boring and no one cares, especially the way Gwyneth’s head is lolling around and Leighton is giving her some more stellar WTF face:
Then Leighton is all, “Does this mean we’re friends?” And Gwynnie goes, “NO.” Bull true. That’s practically Stud Farm Full Of Randy Breeder Bulls True.
When they get to the Austin venue, Gwyneth ralphs in a garbage can. I was going to cut out this photo, but then I realized you might never again get to see Gwyneth ralphing in a garbage can:
Helpfully, she does it in front of the tour promoter, who seethes that she’s THROUGH HERE and Dallas is CANCELLED. Dallas! NOT DALLAS!
And so what we really need here is to interrupt the action for a slow song. Therefore, Beau goes out for his set — even though Gwynnie is a slurring drunk fool and they know by now her part of the concert is cancelled — and announces he’s going to sing the song Leighton wrote for/with/about him. He drags her out and they look longingly at her while singing a song called “Give In To Me,” and you just know Gwynnie’s backup dancers of judgment are accepting bets on how long it will take them to get jiggy with it.
You can just feel the sexual tension as she contemplates his patchy facial hair and thinks, “Is that catching?” This movie has a nasty habit of stopping entirely just so Beau can sing something, as if we might otherwise forget why he is on this tour at all. The rest of the concert doesn’t even happen. The press asks Beau what he thinks of the fans who are upset about Houston, and angry that Gwynnie stiffed them in Austin. Beau huffs that he expected a little more loyalty from them. UM. SHE BLEW THEM OFF. TWICE. Get off your high horse before it bucks you off and then empties its intestines on your swamp beard.
Back to the boozehound:
That’s her, in her fancy trailer, nailing the tour promoter so he will put Dallas back on the bill. NOT DALLAS! Beau catches them, and now we are realizing that Gwynnie is less of a tragic wounded bird than a gross asshole.
Beau’s Hat of Disapproval is visible on the right here. Gwynnie is drunkenly resentful of him and his stupid RULES and his HAT and the marshy outcroppings assaulting his cheekbones, and just wants to drink. He wrestles a bottle out of her hand and, in a scene I’m sure has never before been committed to film, it flies out of her grip and smashes against a wall. This is forging special new ground. Gwynnie then really shows her Oscar-caliber cred by making a wailing sound most easily audible to dogs, and collapsing in the shower in tears.
Between this and the accent, I’m fully shocked this wasn’t, say, Kellie Pickler’s TV acting debut. Or that lady from Sugarland. Gwynnie should’ve done a related GOOP on the top five best ways to de-puff your eyes, although hers probably would’ve involved buying Spleen of Mountain Goat direct from a Himalayan sherpa.
Leighton, meanwhile, has cramps. Although it might just be an upset stomach because she’s wearing that high-waisted, low-hemmed denim skirt, which no Texas Beauty Queen worth her eyelashes would wear unless she was being paid to emcee a square dance. She knocks on Beau’s door, and they engage in a lot of close-range heavy breathing until finally he pounces and they have blue-lit sex.
It’s creepy. I feel like I’m watching some very well-rendered 4D ultrasound (yes, they have 4D — it’s 3D images that move in real-time, and yes, I know that’s not technically a fourth dimension, but I didn’t name it). Post-uterine nooky, she and Beau discuss how she’s bull lying about having been Miss Dallas — DALLAS! NOT DALLAS! — and she whiffed it on a question about global warming because all she could think about was the earth wearing one of her grandmother’s sweaters. Instead of laughing at her and then running away, Beau announces that what he likes so much about her is that she’s not like the others. Perhaps this is because, in this moment, the others are clothed and she is not.
Meanwhile, Gwynnie and Tim are frosty. He tells her he’s giving away the bird so someone else can care for it. I just wish the symbolism in this movie weren’t so subtle. Gwynnie then decides to honor her Make A Wish commitment in Austin even though she blew off the concert completely on account of her rampant alcoholism. So she goes, and she sings to the cutest little muffin the world ever did see.
He’s called Travis in the movie, but let’s give a shout-out to his real self: He’s Gabe Sipos, I believe he also has cancer, and this is a bit more about him. I wish him well and I dare you, America, not to want to give him a squeeze and all your money.
Gwynnie is really great with him, even though her eyeliner is drifting south of her lash line. She writes a song on the spot called “Travis, May I Have This Dance,” and it ends with her picking him up and dancing around the room, and it’s the only moment in this movie where I smiled. Well, except for the bull true, and the trashcan ralphing. Trashcan Ralphing, incidentally, is my new band. Anyway, Tim is so moved by her awesomeness that he dances around with Gwynnie, until he remembers this isn’t where they are now and she drank and fell off the stage and killed their baby. So he goes off and makes wet-eyed love to Middle Distance:
And at THIS point, you realize that the movie wants you to conclude that he’s the wounded party because Gwynnie is a cheating wreck. I suppose they want us to marvel at how everyone is damaged and fragile in their own ways, but seriously, I don’t have any sympathy for these people. Gwynnie needs to suck it up and stop playing the victim, and Tim needs to have accountability for the fact that he should’ve done something about her drinking-while-pregnant BEFORE she fell off the stage with her baby bump. The only hero in this movie is Travis. It should have been called Travis: Two Minutes Of Yes.
So. Dallas. NOT DALLAS! Gwynnie is in hair and makeup, reading about her apparent mental illness.
She asks a sympathetic Beau if he thinks she’s got mental problems and he says no. He is totally lying, right? I mean, he has to be. He kisses her on the forehead, and Gwynnie knows it means he’s moved on, which he then does by going into Leighton’s dressing room and giving her the sparkly star earrings her mama done didn’t could:
She is “moved” “to tears” by this. Beau then announces he’s leaving the tour and moving out to California. His invitation is magical. He tells her he has a friend who runs a ranch “right on the ocean,” because if there’s one thing California does with its beaches, it’s turn them into working farms. And he’s going to keep playing songs in a nearby down-home working-class bar — in tony coastal Cali — just for the love of it, and he wants Leighton to come with him and maybe they’ll Kind Sing an album of Truth.
She is so hypnotized by the brambly hedge growing on his face that she says yes. But as soon as he’s at the door, she’s like, “So I have time to think, right?” Oh, Leighton. We knew this was coming. You’re wearing all your Makeup Of Desperation. Then, since this whole freaking thing is a chopped salad of nonsense, Beau goes out and sings on-stage a special song that he dedicates to Gwynnie, and she watches it on the monitor and then decides to go talk to Leighton.
She delivers an entire cautionary lecture — while Leighton takes notes — about how she should never wear satin on stage because it wrinkles (BULL TRUE, sister-friend) and blah blah blah she should never be afraid to love and be loved and write about love and have love and love love love. It’s weird. Are we supposed to think Gwynnie’s problem was that she was afraid to love? Because that didn’t seem like the trouble. She has loved a lot of people, with her vagina, in this movie. Leighton takes all this in, then goes out on-stage with Beau in a dress from the Party City clearance rack.
She performs, and she’s a hit, and as she clutches at her chest and drinks in the love, Beau looks all sad. Leighton Meester, meanwhile, seems like she wasn’t exactly sure what her character was feeling, because every ten seconds she switched from sad to elated to queasy to thrilled to nervous to overwhelmed to joyous.
Gwynnie goes out on-stage and sings “Country Strong,” and it’s a triumph, and her hair looks way different than it did a minute ago when she was about to go on-stage, but whatever. I wish my hair would do this. Damn you, Gwynnie.
And then Gwynnie did this:
And everyone in the front row was like, “KA-CHING,” and then the tabloids were like, “She REALLY IS Mentally Ill Because Otherwise What?” and somebody else was like, “Hey, she clearly had one of them Brazilians two weeks ago,” and Elaine Benes was all, “Wow, that girl has great moves.”
Then, the big finale song: Gwynnie does “Coming Home” because apparently she can now? I hope she just did that randomly, and without permission, so that they get sued. Anyway, it’s a horrible song, and she is wearing a horrible dress.
She looks like a tall, boobed rectangle. Which I know would’ve made geometry a lot more compelling for a lot of people, but in reality it’s unflattering, especially from this camera angle. I think one of the cameramen was like, “Lady, I tried your vegan bramblewheatseed pancakes with honey from bees who were hugged three times a day and fed steak, and THEY WERE TERRIBLE.”
But Beau really, really liked those pancakes. And, kind of amusingly, Gwynnie walks off the stage during her loud ovation and hisses at Leighton, “That’s how it’s done.” So, recap for Leighton: Drink yourself stupid, miss a bunch of concerts, then come out and do a rootin-tootin’ barn jig in a micromini and then sing a crappy ballad in front of a slideshow of your life.
And because all these people are assheads, how do they celebrate a concert comeback by a notoriously troubled alcoholic? WITH BOOZE. And they’re all like, “Huh, where is GOOP?” And Tim is like, “Whatever, she’s around,” but of course that’s not enough for Beau. He runs to her dressing room. It’s locked. He calls out her name. She doesn’t answer. He kicks in the door, and finally, at the 95-minute mark with fifteen left to go, the movie gets good:
She OD’d on her pills. She killed herself. BULL TRUE. Gwynnie went out with a bang. And she left Tim with a bunch of royalty fees owed to the writer of that “Coming Home” song that she sang without permission. SUCK ON IT, TIM. That’ll teach you to ignore your wife’s baby-killing-drinking until she got so bad that she fell off-stage. I MEAN. I guess maybe she was mentally ill? Or someone just told her St .Peter makes a killer Cosmo at the Pearly Gates martini bar.
The cemetery’s Angel of Death is all, “Who’s Country Strong NOW, bitches?”
Beau is grief-stricken. His heart is as rusted out as his truck. And he finds a note from Gwynnie in his bag, basically telling him that he is all that’s pure and good and true in this world, and “love and fame can’t live in the same place,” or whatever, so in the wake of her death he should go back to dive bars instead of trying to prove her wrong. And Beau is nothing if not obedient, so that’s exactly what he does.
But then one day, who should show up in his bar but…
Leighton! And she’s not wearing makeup, so you know she’s in Cool Mode, and she’s here to stay. And then they sing their duet together and live happily ever after in total Bull True obscurity.
Fuggery: 8 out of 10. It was really boring most of the way, except for some of Leighton’s clothes. And then Gwynnie rounded out her pre-death comeback concert with The Dress That Ate Her Waist, and boosted the score. Also, Beau’s beard was scary. I think I used a piece of it to clean my sink this morning.
Fromage: 7 out of 10. All the morals were super cheesy,the accents were really overdone, and all the crying and over-emoting and talk of love, and yada, were achingly terrible. But they were almost too boring to be pure fromage. And the suicide at the end was too welcome to be cheesy — not because I want people to die, but because it was like, FINALLY, SOMETHING IS HAPPENING.
F*ckwittery: 10 out of 10. If your wife is a legitimate drunken threat to herself, do you really hire some random dude with a guitar to watch her? Do you even take her on tour? Do you really not notice that your wife is a freaking mess BEFORE the night she is all preggo and falling off the stage? Do you REALLY let your headliner look like — and look as though he smells like — the floor of a bar after closing time? Do you really sober up so easily after falling that hard off the wagon? And do you REALLY leave a bird in a box for that long?