For more about Allison and her books visit her website at For now, please relax and brace yourself for the occasionally coherent ramblings of Allison's mind.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie Review: Country Strong (2010) – with bonus Public Service Announcement

I didn’t think I’d like this one. There was no reason I should. I’m already on record as not being a country music fan. In fact, I really don’t get that style at all. But alas, this movie may have converted me.

Ok, maybe not, but not only did I like this movie, I didn’t hate the music. I turned it on expecting to turn it off after a few scenes, but ended up watching the whole way through.

Sure the plot was a bit idealistic, but aren’t most movies? Isn’t that kind of the point of fiction? I was thinking about that the other day as I scoured reviews of books and movies. People’s main complaints seem to be the fictional nature of the fiction they’re absorbing. And yes, I know fiction needs to follow its own rules. And yes, I’ve been frustrated by writers and directors who didn’t. That’s not what I’m talking about.

In general, based on what I’m reading, people seem to be expecting realty when they encounter fiction.

“I’ve been to Mexico City. That’s not how you catch a cab.” I’ve been to Mexico City too. It’s enormous. There are probably dozens of ways to catch a cab. How do you know?

“Oh, no one would ever get discovered like that in the real music business.” Possibly. I’m sure it’s happened. It would be an extremely long, probably boring, movie if you watched the real way most musicians pay their bills.

“A doctor wouldn’t be allowed to do that in real life.” Probably not. So? If the hero dies in the opening scene, would you be happier?

Maybe I’m just biased because my own book was once described as “poorly researched” which I found to be an interesting assertion. As if the reviewer knew enough about the subject matter and my own biography to make that superior claim. I could write an essay defending myself, my research, and the fact that many of the details were autobiographical, but why should I have to? It’s fiction. Even if I didn’t know a thing about the subject (which I did), it’s not real. I made no claims it was. In fact, there’s a whole page in the opening making it very clear it’s not.

How about this movie: Protagonist wakes up, eats a bowl of cereal, takes an uneventful car ride to work, stares at a computer for 9 hours, drives home. Stops for gas. Eats a plate of pasta. Watches TV for two hours. Does a load of laundry. Goes to bed. Closing credits.

Even fiction about reality needs to have fiction to make it watchable. Fiction about reality takes the most fantastic and noteworthy parts of reality and mashes them together in a story. It doesn’t take the average day of the average person. Only the most incredible day of the average person. Or, more often, a combination of many incredible days of many incredible people spliced into one story about one person. It’s fiction. You can do that. We want you to do that.

Back to Country Strong. You already know the plot from the trailer. It doesn’t diverge much from exactly what you think it will be about, but I like Gwyneth Paltrow. We knew she could sing (Duets, 2000), act (plenty of others, not all gems though), and be just plain likeable. She’s one of those actresses that you don’t hate for being beautiful because she seems like she’d be a decent a person. She also seems intelligent. Whether she’s either, I have no idea, but she comes across that way here and in many other films I’ve seen.

It may not be the best movie of the year, but it’s definitely worth the time to watch it. I liked it more than I thought based on the subject and reviews.

Bonus Public Service Announcement:

Although it didn’t bother me (see above), this movie does make it seem like the path to success is a pretty easy one for musicians. Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) went from a beauty queen nobody to recognizable star after a lucky break and few brief shows. The more common path is that of Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) – years of hard work in local bars while working a day job.

Eventually a band or artist that works a bunch of local gigs may get picked up enough to tour, but even that is hardly the beginning of a rock star life. Most of the bands out there struggle and struggle, scraping together just enough cash to keep their van running to get to the next gig. Many can’t even make it without a spouse at home to help pay the bills or a bed in the basement of their parents’ house when they’re not touring. I’m not even talking about your neighbor’s start up garage band. I’m talking about those with a real shot who you would think have made it. Record deals. Tour managers. Agents. The whole deal. By the time everyone gets their cut, there’s not much left for them. Trust me.

This leads to my PSA.

Please don’t steal music from these people. I read a lot of “comment sections” on articles and message boards. I’m curious about public opinion and where people are in terms of their thought processes. It’s frustrating to read people whining about how these “multi-million dollar rockstars” should stop complaining about the $.99 they’re losing because of a ripped song. One less vacation home. So what?

You know what, there are some multi-million dollar rock stars out there. Most of them aren’t. You’d probably be shocked to know how little a lot of your favorite bands earn. I know first hand there are bands who had invites to the Grammys and are barely getting by. That $.99 may seem inconsequential but they’ve invested everything they have into writing and recording that song.

I was at a show recently and one of the bands I liked was literally wearing t-shirts for the band they opened for. Why? Someone broke into their van and stole all their clothes and some equipment. They were begging for their fans to buy a CD or some merchandise so they could at least get some clothes to finish the tour. That’s not an unusual financial situation for even a band you could say has made it.

Just give them their $9.99 for an album or $.99 for a song. If you like their music, the only way they can afford to keep making it is if we support them. That’s true of most art. People spend years putting together a book or an album or a movie.

End of Public Service Announcement. Enjoy your day.

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