But Feste makes everyone on-screen people — flawed, selfish, capable of cruelty and kindness. If McGraw were a car, he would have one gear, marked “stolid,” but that’s served him well on-screen before, and it does here. Meester turns what could have been a shallow joke into a person, and you believe both that Chiles has every idea of what she wants and no idea who Townes Van Zandt is.
“Country Strong” stumbles, and has some slack in its silences, but it takes its world, characters and songcraft seriously, so that while much of it is hard to remember after the sound of the guitar fades from your memory, some of it still sticks in your mind with simple strength and real feeling.
Meester also shows she can do more than play one of Gossip Girl’s privileged Manhattan socialite.
McGraw and Meester provide fitting support as characters masking inner pain through devotion to their careers. [...] the story takes chances, the characters aren’t always predictable, the music is solid, and the setting and complicated female lead are welcome changes from the Hollywood norm…
HitFix (this is so back-handed but I kind of like it):
This is ostensibly Paltrow’s show, but she disappears offstage for significant chunks of the movie while we deal with the lives and ambitions of Beau and Chiles, and that winds up being not such a bad thing. Paltrow understands the show-biz side of the character – the scene where Kelly tells Chiles everything a young singer should know is a highlight, and she has a lovely moment performing for a young fan with leukemia – but there are places when her attempts at being a good-ol’-gal play like Grace Kelly trying to portray Ma Kettle.
[...] Meester’s pipes are pretty impressive as well, and that not-quite-formed quality she so often brings as an actress suits her perfectly here, playing a singer with the drive to succeed but lacking the polish and the focus that will conceivably make her a star.
A tabloid-torn backstage soap opera is rendered with considerable empathy and emotional complexity in “Country Strong.” [...] rare ensemble piece in which all four principals are not only compellingly drawn but handled with an astute sense of dramatic balance. Buoyed by an expectedly fine soundtrack and obvious heartland appeal…
But the film’s saving grace is that its personalities always ring true even when its situations don’t. Feste sees her characters whole, and she has an unusual knack for finding her way into a scene and locating its emotional truth, often indirectly: Beau and Kelly’s first moment onscreen — in which they playfully improvise a song during an impromptu jam session — shows how the easy chemistry between two actors can turn a scripted moment into one of great tenderness and privileged intimacy.
Every significant relationship in the film has its own uniquely tense dynamic: Kelly and James’ struggle to revive a marriage weighed down by professional obligations; James and Beau’s intense mutual antipathy; Kelly’s icy treatment of Chiles, who returns the cold shoulder with wide-eyed admiration; and Beau and Chiles’ very different reactions to their tantalizing first brushes with fame.
Making use of a Southern drawl almost as thick as his mustache, Hedlund registers much more boldly here than in the current “Tron: Legacy,” playing a guy whose impulsive need to rescue the women closest to him doesn’t always result in the wisest decisions. Even more impressive is Meester (“Gossip Girl”), who not only looks and sounds like a country star but movingly exposes the talented yet insecure young woman beneath Chiles’ shallow-princess veneer.
Despite this being Paltrow’s film, Freste gives Hedlund and Meester plenty of moments to shine – and both take full advantage of that.
Meester, meanwhile, is perfectly cast as Chiles, a former beauty pageant queen who longs for a music career, but has fears and issues of her own. Meester brings both a sense of humor and sympathy to the character.
Though she’s best known as rich girl Blair Waldorf on the CW series Gossip Girl and for her pop singing on a few top 40 songs, her work in Country Strong gives Meester much credibility as a feature film actress.
[...] Despite minor infractions, the actors give 150%, making Country Strong an extremely enjoyable film.
‘Country Strong’: Awkward rhythm, strong performances
Feste does trust her performers, who deliver some powerful performances, and that seems to explain why the scenes improve as they go along. And as clich d as the story may seem at first, Feste gives the characters some interesting shadings. As Jim, country star McGraw (who does not sing in the film) is not a simple Svengali. His relationship with Kelly is more complicated and McGraw has the appeal to make Jim seem like a good guy caught in a bad situation.
Meester gives Chiles a sensitivity needed to balance against her ambitions. While his role may not make Hedlund (who is also in “Tron: Legacy”) a star, you can see where he’s going. The actor, who learned how to sing and play for the film, shows off an easygoing way that makes Beau a charmer.
Country Strong is a song you’ve heard before, but played with feeling
[...] Though the high-strung Kelly is the flashier part — a turn that allows Paltrow a full-on streaked-mascara diva trip — it’s the handling of Chiles that typifies Feste’s writing and direction at her best. It would have been easier (and perhaps more exciting dramatically) to make this porcelain doll a one-dimensional schemer: Kelly’s Black Swan. Instead, as played in a surprisingly nuanced performance by Gossip Girl vixen Leighton Meester, she’s funny and sympathetic — a self-doubting semi-airhead who secretly remedies her low IQ with flash cards — and she isn’t punished for her ambition. Meester’s especially good with Hedlund, whose screen presence here only shows how shamefully Tron: Legacy squandered his charisma: He’s even got a honey-dripping baritone pitched somewhere between John Doe and Don Williams.
Box Office Magazine:
Both sincere and cynical in its view of country stardom, Country Strong is a charmer that makes you forgive all of its false notes simply because the talent plays them with conviction.
[...]To really understand Kelly’s past, look to her opener Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a beauty queen who makes success look easy. With her sweet voice and guileless PR act (she’s very sincere about her faux naivety) Meester’s got that glow about her that makes record executives smile. She’s pure pop country and primed to get swept up into the machine.
Meester is endearing as a Taylor Swift-style up-and-comer whose peppy, insipid lyrics belie a damaged past.
Jumbled But Heartfelt
[...]Kelly comes alive in moments, while the others — even poor James — are more fully, consistently realized characters. Meant perhaps to reflect the plight of those who become performing machines, Kelly’s refractions serve mainly to highlight the fault lines in this deeply, dangerously earnest take on truth and beauty in trouble.
Roger Ebert (doesn’t really say anything negative, seems complimentary, but gives a meh rating lol. I figure Leighton must’ve done something right for him to understand her character.):
Now it may seem that I am finding fault with “Country Strong.” Quite the opposite. Country Strong is a throwback, a pure, heartfelt exercise in ’50s social melodrama. We must see a movie for what it is, not for what we think another film might have been [...] Its emotions are strong and visible. Its motives are clear. Its music performances are so good, we wish they lasted longer.
Chiles is a promising singer but an emotional basket case because of deep insecurities from left over from childhood. She’s got herself one of those pinched-up fearful faces with her red lips all forced into a perfect bow, and hair too stiff. She’s like a caricature of mama’s little beauty pageant contestant until at the end, wow, she scrubs off the makeup and shampoos that hairspray off her hair, and we realize Leighton Meester is a beauty and not a victim of a cosmetics counter makeover.
The music is the best part. Hedlund has a surprisingly rich singing voice, the mahogany tones giving depth and stature to an under-written character, and Meester handles her songs like the beauty pageant contestant with Taylor Swift ambitions she is asked to play.
“Country Strong” is, above all, a showcase for Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester to show off their pipes along with their thespian talents. They are all solid singers and fully believable as country crooners at various stages in their music careers. They hold the screen with seamless magnetism and, in the cases of Hedlund and Meester, their work here should effectively serve as their breakthroughs, proof that they can handle better, meatier screen roles than what they’ve been given in the past. Whenever one of them is onstage doing their thing, whether it be Beau performing a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” over the opening credits or, later, singing original song “Chances Are,” Chiles reminding of Carrie Underwood with “Words I Couldn’t Say,” or Kelly holding the audience in the palm of her hand with the title track and “Coming Home,” the film soars. Director Shana Feste also captures the country music environment and backstage happenings with flavorful authenticity, going far to prove that she knows and understands this world.
As Chiles, Meester has genuine screen presence.
Wall Street Journal:
Ms. Meester gives an accomplished performance that’s limited only by the lack of nuance in the script.
NY Daily News:
For one thing, the wild highs and deep-down lows suit th
e country music setting, and for another, she’s blessed with a fully committed cast.
Philadelphia Daily News:
[...] There are moments when the unwavering sincerity of the cast add up to some decent scenes.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Meester brings surprising depth to a character who starts off as little more than hair and lip gloss.
The only characters of any conviction are the ones played by McGraw and Meester, and that’s saying something, given the wretched dialogue.
Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester injects some bubbliness into the film as a sympathetic popster with Taylor Swift influences.
Leighton Meester plays the other act, a squeaky clean beauty queen and aspiring star named Chiles Stanton, which are the two best consecutive words in Feste’s screenplay.
[...] But Meester is the best thing in the movie. She’s just doing Reese Witherspoon’s June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line’’ with dabs of Miley Cyrus and Kellie Pickler. But it’s not an impersonation; it’s a performance with its own comedy and sweetness. Kelly Canter has seven platinum records. Chiles Stanton says she has seven different smiles. Come the movie’s embarrassing climactic stab at tragedy, you regret that “Country Strong’’ hadn’t been more about the legend of Chiles’s dental work.
Furthermore, by infusing everyone involved with legitimate musical talent the script has also made it all the more tragic that no one really has their act together. Country stars represent a throwback style of earnest Americana that’s on the ropes, and this might knock them completely out of the ring.
Country charm pervades the film, phrases like “Big ol’” and “That’s what I tol’ ‘em” and “wee high” are sprinkled liberally throughout. The crowd is overly lit in most of the singing scenes, with are plentiful and authentic. [...] Great songs, solid acting, and an innovative storytelling method can’t salvage the eye-rolling plot points (I disagree!)
“Country Strong” does feature some toe-tapping songs, and the performances are all solid.
New York Times:
[...]here a singer nicely played by Leighton Meester.
[...]It’s a testament to their talents that its musical numbers are as rousing as they are.
Co-stars Meester and Hedlund, however, wind up making the most lasting impression. In one of the film’s better tunes, the heartsick duet Give in to Me, both actors display genuinely strong singing voices, and have a nice, relaxed manner on camera that makes you want to keep watching.
Leighton’s character Chiles Stanton and her pop-country sensibility were as charming as apple pie. When Garrett and Leighton were on the screen, the chemistry they displayed was infectious and adorable. I could’ve watched two hours of that.
Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester is likable as the dim-bulb starlet who quizzes herself with flash cards to appear smarter, and is somehow innocent in tiny little panties, while Hedlund and McGraw pass her back and forth like a hacky sack. (Okay, I quote this because it’s a positive review on her acting, but this guy couldn’t be more wrong about her character and the relationships here.)
Meester out-acts Paltrow by nailing the calculated sweetness of her character. She’s a girl who, when you call her “Country Barbie,” says “Thank you!” and means it. (Gwyneth was great though.)
The only things that keep Country Strong from being an outright disaster — that makes the movie watchable, really — are the insanely catchy songs performed by the cast, all of whom did their own singing. The movie constantly cuts away after the tunes’ first chorus, which is frustrating, but the snippets you do get to hear are terrific, making you wish Country Strong would set the backstage histrionics aside and put the music front and center.[...]In Country Strong, the Oscar-winning Paltrow gets upstaged and outacted by the kid from Tron and the snotty brat from Gossip Girl. Who’d have thought? (Leighton’s always been critically-accalimed despite being on GG, asshole.)
Garrett Hedlund (who made this film immediately after getting digital for TRON: Legacy) and Leighton Meester (who dabbles in singing) are photogenic and convincing (if not Oscar material) as singers and actors.
Ultimately, Country Strong has it where it counts, which means it can generate an effective emotional response without making the viewer feel like he or she is being pulled through a manipulative meat grinder. There’s a fair amount of ambiguity in the relationships, especially in how Beau is torn between the woman he idolizes and protects and the one with whom he connects in a more primal way.
Cherubic, dulcet-voiced Meester is made for the role, though it’s hard to imagine the ultra-petite Gossip Girl star winning many pageants in a state renowned for its preference for all things oversized.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Paltrow comes off as a trouper and handles her vocals admirably (along with Hedlund and Meester, who reportedly did all their singing).
Meester plays Chiles Stanton with a pleasant deer-in-headlights edge. She has some chops, a little talent to go along with her insecurity. But it’s her looks that have McGraw’s manager-hubby panting after her. Hedlund and Meester have the film’s best scene, early on, when Beau gallantly plays his way onto a stage to save Chiles from stagefright, a little “Friends in Low Places” duet.
Film Journal International:
To be fair to Feste, the script is more nuanced, at times clever, and Hedlund and Meester are attractive actors.
The stories coexist but don’t quite gel. Still, the actors, especially Hedlund (currently starring in “Tron: Legacy”) and Meester (bad girl Blair Waldorf on TV’s “Gossip Girl”), and the film’s headstrong finale make the trip better than average.
Hedlund and Meester are better, and when the film focuses on their stories it strikes a more winning note. Hedlund shows vulnerability and charm, and there are times when he seems like a young Heath Ledger. Meester, playing the opposite of her snooty “Gossip Girl” character, gets better as the movie goes on when she’s revealed to be more than a one-note caricature of a beauty pageant lifer.
Meester’s portrayal of a prefabricated country Barbie is spot on. Her singing chops are also rock solid.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays a Nashville singing star whose career and marriage are both on the skids. Her warm, supple voice is well-suited to plaintive ballads, and the other two actors trying out their pipes—Garrett Hedlund as her young lover and Leighton Meester as her fresh-faced rival—also acquit themselves admirably.
As the self-destructive country queen at the centre of things, Paltrow is effective in an underwritten role that has all the profundity of a compilation of Us Weekly best-of articles.
Instead — and perhaps appropriately in light of the film’s parallels to A Star is Born and All About Eve – Hedlund and Meester deliver the most compelling performances.
Hedlund, for instance, is much more natural than he was in Tron: Legacy. And Meester convincingly deepens Chiles’ ambitious surface with self-doubt.
For all that it might seem that we’ve seen this same story — the rags-to-riches arc of the artist — before, we’ve never seen it done quite this way: intimate rather than epic, suffused with bitter irony, and unsentimentally bald-faced about the wages of fame. It just took a while for the film’s low-key style — it’s never glitzy and glammy about the glitz and glamour it’s depicting — to sneak up on me and make me appreciate it for what it is.
The younger pair of singers, undamaged infants in the business, are much easier to like. Predictably, Beau and Chiles fall in love and begin crooning together on stage and writing duets. It’s corny and clichéd, but also endearing. The viewer can’t help but empathize with their wide-eyed interest in the simple pleasures of life (drinking beer, riding trucks, admiring the beauty of the California beaches). The film’s best moments are when these two, in spite of the chaos around them, find a way to tease out the inherent, simple loveliness of old-school romance. As in, “Cowboy, take me away,” or, “Let’s jump in the jalopy and drive off into the sunset.” This sort of tenderly sentimental Americana is why we love country music, and it’s why this film isn’t a total loss.
Meester, too, best known for her television character Blair on CW’s “Gossip Girl”, earns her stripes as a big-screen actress with her performance as Chiles Stanton, an unsure-of-herself young ingenue, captivated by the bright lights and swept away by the lure of fame.
Despite the obvious flaws, the actors manage to inject believability into their characters, allowing them to be raw and less than perfect. That vulnerability, coupled with fresh music and enthusiastic, heartfelt acting and vocal performances all round, make “Country Strong” worth tuning into.
Similarly, Hedlund and Meester make fine All About Eve fodder. They find a nice balance between the needs of the characters and the desires of the aged, creaky narrative.
I really did love the performances in the film. Particularly Garrett Hedlund who I was not really impressed with during TRON: Legacy. Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow both do a great job in portraying the varying emotions so that the audience can real be with them on their rollercoaster. Leighton Meester is even great as “the next Carrie Underwood”. While her performance is the least impressive of the four, she is still very good. (⌐⌐)
I was also surprised at the singing in the film. Meester, Hedlund, and Paltrow all did their own singing and I was really shocked at how good they were.
Sings like an angel [...] “Country Strong” offers some wonderful music to make amends for the storytelling flaws, including a flirty duet between Beau and Chiles. Even those allergic to pedal steel guitars will sway in their seats, and both Hedlund and Meester prove to have voices as purty as their respective pusses.
The Daily Loaf:
The performances are mostly outstanding, with even Meester delivering a surprisingly sufficient turn.
While the performances are amazing, the music is the star here. The actors all apparently sang for themselves, and they made this non-country music fan smile. (I have no idea how the purists will feel.) The songs are heartfelt and extremely well done, with the up-tempo numbers leaving space for an intimate tune or two.
Overall, Country Strong is a terrific movie — whether you like country music or not — thanks to the strength of the performances. I expect some recognition for the actors come Oscar time. Country Strong won’t dominate the awards, but it should leave a mark.
Leighton Meester is almost an unknown but stakes out a giant career pole here. Her vapid little pop princess is not some cut-out character but a fully formed individual. She finds both humor and vulnerability in the role. This is the kind of a performance that launches a giant movie career.
Meester rounds the ensemble out with a nimble balance of cute-on-cue charm and paralyzing insecurity.
Leighton Meester was much better than I expected her to be. She is, as Beau so plainly states, “country barbie”. Underneath mountains of foundation, her shellacked lips and fake eyelashes, Chiles is somewhat naive, and genuinely kind hearted. It’s such a contrast to Meester’s conniving character on Gossip Girl that it is jarring. But she pulls off the cherubic look of a cute little country girl with ease.
Meester proves she’s more than just a sitcom talking head. She thoroughly impresses with her nuanced portrayal of a burgeoning country singer, who idolizes Kelly and is driven to be successful. And yet, she’s also insecure and kindhearted.
the movie’s plot and storyline fail to live up to the phenomenal acting and singing.
Get The big Picture:
About the only character whose actions make sense most of the time is Chiles. A former beauty pageant contestant, she really wants to become a country singer. She’s enamored with both Kelly and James because of what they represent, and her naivety is obvious in her dealings with the music industry.
Leighton Meester as the innocent and bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed Chiles was consistent and entertaining.
Hedlund and Meester are equally watchable as the eager young musicians riding in the boxcars of Kelly’s fame train. Both have great presence and timing. “How do I look?” asks Chiles before taking the stage. Beau responds: “Like a country Barbie.” Chiles chirps back, irony-free: “Thanks.”
In the end, the stellar performances lift the film above mediocrity, if only just.
Both Hedlund and Meester show great skills as actors and musicians. Although their relationship is rather transparent, they make a strong enough couple to be interesting on their own.
Fine music, robust performances…
It might provide Meester (TV’s Gossip Girl) with her breakout role, considering she makes the best impression of the four leads.
Larry King (HAD TO):
Country Strong is a heck of a film. Great performances, terrific music. Four stars!
Thanks to: Livejournal Community “Blairwaldorfs”.