FROM HER HIGH-PROFILE MARRIAGE (and subsequent, absurdly named progeny), to her reality-detached lifestyle website and superstar BFFs (Beyoncé!), I think it's fair to say we probably all know more about Gwyneth Paltrow's career as a professional celebrity than we remember about her career as an actress. That's because Gwyneth Paltrow, for well over a decade, has existed in the upper echelons of mega-celebrity not so much based on a fruitful career as a thespian (Pop quiz: name one movie she's starred in over the last decade that's not Iron Man), but by simply Being Gwyneth Paltrow: rich, rail thin, and self-satisfied. It's cool, Gwyneth Paltrow: It totally seems to be working out for you.
Along with mega-celebrity status come new challenges as a middling, late-career actor, however: that of somehow transcending your pop omnipresence enough to trick an audience into believing you are an actual human being. The further away from your celebrity image you cast, the more implausible the suspension of disbelieve becomes—and the more hilarious the results. We believe it when Tom Cruise plays a megalomaniacal dickhead. We believe it when Angelina Jolie plays a soul-hungry sex monster. But please, Gwyneth Paltrow, have the decency not to ask me to believe a perpetual-stick-up-her-ass, such as yourself, is a fast-and-loose, down-and-out, alcoholic mess of a cuuun-try saaaanger.
In Country Strong, Paltrow stars as Kelly Canter—a fresh from rehab, tabloid-baiting country superstar forced to return to the road too soon by her ambitious manager/husband (played with admirable subtlety by Tim McGraw). Along for the ride is the Lady Canter's new dalliance—a jen-u-wiiiine cuuuntry purist played by a toothy dude who looks like an underwear model (Garrett Hedlund)—as well as a new rival in the Underwood/Swift mold (Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester). It don't take long for ol' Gwynnie to get back to her familiar drinkin' and cussin' and fuckin' and fightin' ways, as her increasingly desperate behavior threatens to derail the whole tour. Can anyone manage to save her from herself? And why is it taking so long to get to the triumphant third act?
Through all of Paltrow's home-spun truisms and vodka-swilling meltdowns, Country Strong actually manages to achieve exactly what it seems to set out to: to faithfully translate all of the insipid cliché and pantomimed authenticity of contemporary country music into a suitably condescending feature film. It's telling that the only scene in which Paltrow manages even the slightest modicum of believability is one in which she offers some helpful celebrity tips to her up-and-coming adversary—what Beverly Hills tailor to send your costumes to, what beverages will make you look bloated on show nights, etc. Kudos, Gwyneth Paltrow, for finding fame and fortune for being just the way you are: totally, unapologetically awful.