Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Country Strong--Top Movie Pick for Characterization

Country Strong Amazing Characterization or Cliche?

WARNING—Spoiler—this reveals the plot and ending of the movie, though I can’t imagine a good writer wouldn't see it coming.

Either the characterization in this movie was really well done or really poorly done, or I’m missed a bunch of dialogue explaining motivations, ‘cause I can’t figure it out.

I saw Country Strong, staring Tim McGraw and Gwyneth Paltrow last night and found it a surprisingly interesting movie. Usually I have little patience and find little to admire in movies featuring self-destructive alcoholic stars who implode, however there’s something about the characters in this movie that struck me differently.

Something keeps noodling around in my head, bothering me. I wonder if it might be some terrific characterization (or poorly done characterization) or perhaps I missed critical details due to the accented dialogue mumbled throughout the entire movie, straining this midwestern ear. Perhaps you can help me.

We’re a society who likes to place blame, though I suppose it shouldn’t matter to me as a person . . . all three of the main characters, James, Kelly and Beau seemed to suffer throughout the movie and that should have generated plenty of sympathy, but who was the antagonist?

On the surface, the husband, James, seems to be the obvious villain—or even Kelly herself, yet I suspect it was Fame that was supposed to be the villain.

Did manager, James, really love his super-star wife, Kelly? Did Kelly love James? I think they did love each other and that love was destroyed by her fame and the alcohol . . . yet why? Why did she start drinking? How did the fame drive Kelly to drink and start whoring around? It can’t be the loss of their baby; she had a problem with alcohol before she lost their baby. From the average person’s perspective, they had it all. Money and fame. No worries. So what went wrong????

I think James loved Kelly. Yet he took her out of rehab early—though she appeared hesitant, but willing. Did Kelly leave rehab early to please her husband, to gain access to alcohol, or ‘cause she missed the adulation of the crowds?

And what was with the chick? First of all . . . I didn’t buy that Kelly had been successfully nurturing the quail chick. In my experience . . . chicks are really hard to keep alive. It probably would have been more believable to me if they’d chosen another type of baby animal for both Kelly and James to bond to.

I’m assuming the chick was supposed to be the replacement “baby” for Kelly and James to nurture after the loss of their baby. That James indulged Kelly and brought the chick along on tour and cared for it personally spoke to his love for his wife and his grief over the loss of their baby—at least that’s how it seemed to me. I don’t think he did it simply to placate and manipulate Kelly. I missed what happened to the chick in the end. Where’d the chick go? Did it die or did they let it go?


And the fact that James cared enough to punch Beau when Beau confirmed that he wasn’t Kelly’s “sponsor”, in essence admitting that he and Kelly were having an affair, showed me that James cared enough to be jealous. James loved his wife.

James watched Kelly a lot, looking for glimpses of the “old” well, Kelly. Looking for glimpses of the woman he fell in love with. He was clearly disgusted by her drinking and seemed puzzled by her fragility; she’d always been so strong. He didn’t seem to know where it’d all gone wrong either.

I think James loved Kelly, but he didn’t know how to help her and he was jealous of the way Beau was bonding to Kelly in rehab, so perhaps he took her out of rehab and on tour to separate them? He didn’t want Beau to tour with them. It was Chiles he wanted to open for Kelly, but accepted Beau ‘cause both Chiles and Kelly appeared to need Beau.


But James made it Beau’s job to keep Kelly sober instead of watching over his wife himself. Why? That seemed like a stupid mistake. And James wouldn’t make love to Kelly when she reached out to him . . . but since he knew she was sleeping around . . . and they hadn’t worked through that . . . I guess it’s unfair to expect him to pretend everything was all right and make love to her just because she reached out to him for . . . comfort? For forgiveness? For reassurance?

What about Kelly? She appears to be the cliché star ruined by fame. She was an addict who whored around and lost her baby, however . . . did she leave rehab to please her husband? Because she’d been unfaithful –and continued to be so, throughout the movie, yet I got a sense that she wanted Jame’s forgiveness, yet wasn’t strong enough to make them sit down and talk it out and see if he could forgive her. See if they had a future together.


I got the feeling that Kelly felt all she could give James (all he wanted from her) was her career—a good performance.

A come-back. Kelly never appeared to dislike her husband. She didn’t sleep around to get even with him. She was jealous of Chiles—yet Chiles and James didn’t appear to ever be inappropriate.

Kelly was a fragile soul, yet she managed to pull-it together to please the little boy with leukemia, giving us (and James) a glimpse of the old, irresistible woman Kelly had been. We see here, the woman James fell in love with. This scene gave us all hope. What a lovely, poignant moment. Then Kelly falls apart again.

It was heartbreaking when Kelly slept with the promoter to get him to allow her to finish her tour in Dallas when he’d cancelled it.


In the end, Kelly gave all she could to that last performance. Did she do it for James so they’d go out on a high note? Did she do it to redeem herself? Both reasons?


And another thing I found interesting is where they started the story. One might be tempted to think that the inciting incident was her falling off stage and loosing the baby, but they chose to make that backstory. Do you think it was the right spot to start this story?

On the surface this seems like another simple “star ruined by fame”story, yet I find only Chiles and Beau and their romance simple. I’m really intrigued and saddened by James and Kelly’s story and annoyed to be left with so many questions.

Anybody have some answers for me?


14 comments:

Donnell said...

T, I didn't see it, but from your post, I want to now. Sounds like an awesome study in characterization. Thanks for sharing.

Theresa said...

Donnell,
I'll be interested to hear what you think of it. Let me know. Thoughts about this woke me up this morning at 5am, so I suspect the characterization was very clever. Though I wish I knew what happened to the chick and I wish I knew what drove Kelly to drink and pills in the beginning. Did I miss it or did they just never say? To me it's critical info that speaks to her/James' motivation.

kakiwarner said...

I haven't seen it, either, T. But I think it would take some pretty special writing to create empathy for any characters who have it all, then throw it away. You ask great questions, though, and you've definitely sucked me in to checking it out.

JMB said...

Unique story where the two stars are losers, and the two background characters end up as the real stars.

Theresa said...

JMB, I SOOOO disagree!
It's not a unique story--it's rather cliche'. Super star who can't deal with fame implodes. And that's a REALLY harsh view of James and Kelly. Yikes! how could I have married such an intolerant man? Where's your sympathy?
The background characters learned from Kelly and James mistakes . . . but what's to say Chiles wouldn't have gone down that same path without the advice and example set by Kelly and her husband????
I guess that's the happy ending. Two souls saved, who learned from Kelly and James' tragedy.

Ruby Johnson said...

My daughter saw the movie and liked it. I didn't watch it because I tend to let my feelings about an actor's politics get in the way of my enjoyment of a film. When Gwyneth Paltrow said she hated this country and was leaving to live in England, I just couldn't get around the fact that she still uses the USA (a country she hates) to make a living.

Donnell said...

Ruby, hmmm. Now that I know that...I think Theresa wrote a Five Scribes blog a while back about politics getting in the way, didn't you, T?

Leslie Ann said...

T, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I will and then I'll comment, from a screenwriters perspective.

It's interesting this film moved you to write a post about it. Why? The frustration you feel not being able to pin things down.

And I assume, JMB is dear 'ole John?

Is this movie similar to a Star is Born?

There is a great movie, with Paul Newman which starts out with him at rock bottom. It's a redemption story..."THE VERDICT" and well worth watching b/c he finds so much more about himself than just winning the case. (Can that be the same with these people?? Again I have yet to watch the flick.)

Whereas "UNFORGIVEN" with Clint Eastwood, is a failed redemption story. So there doesn't have to be a happy ending in these "crisis" stories...and as you know I don't always write happy endings, but endings that make sense to the story being told.

Did there need to be a happy ending? (in response to John you indicated you thought there might be one.)

ciao all
~LA, resident screenwriter

Theresa said...

Sounds familiar. The thing is . . . unless I've heard the comment in person (have first-hand information about it), I'm not confident that the comments hasn't been taken out of context.

Seems to me living a celebrity's life--where one's every move is scrutinized, photographed, and perhaps twisted . . . it's got to be tough, so I try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt.

Theresa said...

LA . . . I think it was a redemption story, not so much for the protagonist, or maybe for her too as before her last performance she kindly gives up her jealousy of Chiles and gives her advice. And she manages to redeem herself with the Dallas performance, but she doesn't give up her drug addiction.
I was taken aback how much I was touched by the story, which at first seems cliche'. but, dang, it seems like nobody's seen it! And it's been out since Jan. It didn't get great reviews, but that doesn't mean much to me.
Be interested find someone who has seen it!

Angi Morgan said...

Hey Donnell,
Late to the party, but wanted to let you know I did see the movie.

I too was left with all the questions you mentioned. I really don't like movies that don't have much character growth or take the "easy" way. Kelly's suicide was the easier way. And James was growing (baby chick) but refused to see the affair. It was conflicting information and conflicting characterization. But then, so is life.

I don't believe it was as much about star freezy as it was learning how to cope with the bad along with the good. We all have to learn that.

I really wish they would have been more blatant about it, perhaps teaching younger people that it's okay to fall, it's okay to make mistakes...you just ahve to get back up and try to be better.

~~Angi

Donnell said...

Angi, thanks for stopping by. This was my brilliant blog partner's Theresa Rizzo's post. Now she's got us all panting to see the movie. I think the producers should pay her!

Donnell said...

Angi, thanks for stopping by. This was my brilliant blog partner's Theresa Rizzo's post. Now she's got us all panting to see the movie. I think the producers should pay her!

Theresa said...

Hi Angie,
We do all need to learn to cope with the bad alongside the good. So it wasn't just that I missed it? they never said what happened to the chick? Yeah, it probably would have been better if they were more blatant about a lot of the character growth and background providing motivation.
All my husband can see is that they had it all and screwed it up. He didn't have ANY sympathy for Kelly and James.
James acknowledged the affair eventually when he hit Beau. Ya know . . . when I really thought about it, I could sympathize with James. I've been in situations where I simply had NO idea what the right thing to do was--but needed to do something.
Sad.