Monday, September 12, 2011

"She's not crazy. She's the only honest one here!": The Week of Gwyneth

One of the internet's favourite whipping gals, the High Mistress of GOOP: Gwyneth Paltrow, has been having quite a week, hasn't she? For whatever reason, I've always loved this woman. Perhaps it's because she is so reviled by many that has kept my affections for her in tact all these years, but I'm glad she's stuck around and continues to tower over everyone with her superiority and sleek hair. Every time somebody mocks her for suggesting you rub the yolk of an ostrich egg over your skin for a perfect complexion, I laugh and think "that's exactly why she's amazing!" When did we stop enjoying the decadent lifestyles of celebrities?


Her week started off looking fabulous at the premiere of Steven Soderbergh's Contagion. [warning: gay fashion moment!] I'm not a fan of bows on dresses - lest we remember Renee Zellweger's ridiculous Oscar G-O-W-N from the year she wailed about on a mountaintop and won the Academy Award for Cold Mountain - but this one is particularly fetching. That ribbon down the spine is gorgeous.

[end gay fashion moment]

Then over the weekend she not only won an Emmy Award(!) for her guest work on Glee, but her film debuted at #1 at the US box office. Her role on Glee was definitely one of the most refreshing bits of that show's hit-and-miss second season and I'm glad she was rewarded there. You go for that EGOT, Gwyn! As for Contagion? Well, it's not out in Australia until December and, admittedly, her role is quite small (from what we've seen of the marketing), but considering it made more in its opening weekend than her last film, musical Country Strong, made in its entire run, I think she can take it as a win. Also: a win for Jude Law! But let's not get into that just now, okay?

Speaking of Country Strong though... to top off this week of Gwyneth, where she appeared to be all over the place on my internet, I watched her recently released Country Strong. This musical about an alcoholic country musician who leaves rehab for a comeback tour throughout Texas went direct-to-DVD here in Australia, but netted an Oscar nomination earlier this year for the track "Coming Home". The screenplay by Shana Feste - this curiously named woman, who also directed, was apparently inspired by none other than Britney Spears! - is full of wide-eyed clangers like "Don't ever wear satin on stage 'cause it wrinkles like anything and your sweat will show right through it," that put any heed on it being taken seriously. It's a shame then that so much of the film is so staggeringly average, never allowing it to take up it's rightful place as a true camp classic.

Right on throughout the film the costumes just aren't vulgar enough, the accents not hackneyed enough, the doe-eyed stare of Leighton Meester just not doe-eyed enough, and so on. If the opening scene, of Paltrow's character in a rehab facility, had been made with Joan Crawford she would look like a glamourous movie star with perfectly coiffed hair and wearing a fur stole, whereas this film merely posits her as a cleaner Kate Moss with her rehab chic look and sexy tousled hair (see below). Her breakdowns, frequent as they are, are hardly Mommie Dearest in size. Paltrow is suitably good with the ridiculously cliched material - never fear, there is a scene where a bottle of booze is thrown at a wall, so too is a scene where her mentor/manager/husband nods his head in approval of how far she's come - and would surely have won an Oscar if Country Strong had been made in, oh, 1956? I am sure Paltrow has a patent on a time machine to do just that, but they'll need to do some tweaking like during the scene where she wears leather pants to a Make a Wish Foundation meeting with a cancer-stricken boy. Oh yes.

The music is by far the best asset up the film's sleeve, with Gwyneth's crooning more than pasting mustre. "Me & Tennessee", "Country Strong" and the Oscar-nominated "Country Strong" are superb, but a plot strange surrounding the latter tune is confusingly left behind. In fact, many plot strands are left by the wayside or simply ignored. Why, for instance, would anybody let this woman be alone for longer than 30 seconds when she's just gotten out of rehab ("don't take someone out of rehab before the rehab!" says Garrett Hedlund's gravelly-voiced support musician) and has already caused havoc with new arena concerts due to falling off of the wagon? Why are Hedlund and Paltrow positioned as lovers and then suddenly not? Where does Meester's stage fright vanish to? How does Paltrow's "country music superstar" just get miraculously cured by film's end? Why does Tim McGraw know what "guyliner" is?

Perhaps there's something to be said for the sheer sincerity at Country Strong's core. Perhaps. When one character states of another's song titles that "these aren't songs, they're rides at Disneyland", I couldn't but feel the film knew its audience (country music fans) and was giving them something that would appeal to them more than anybody else. Consider it a multiplex Crazy Heart. Still, the way Feste seems completely unaware of her film's inherent silliness is disappointing. Despite the darkness it deals with, when a news report tells us that Gwyneth's Kelly Canter was "five months pregnant at the time, tripped over a microphone board and fell ten feet", there is no way a chuckle can't emanate as one imagines such a scene being filmed with Gwyneth wearing a fake stomach and tumbling down into a moshpit. I want that scene. I need that scene. Especially when just minutes later Paltrow's is warning Meester that "[laxatives] never work the way you want them to."

Country Strong is certainly an easy way to pass 117 minutes of your time, until the credits role and you realise the grand sum of those 117 minutes was a soundtrack that you can listen to without accompanying dialogue like "She's not crazy, she's the only honest one here", spoken after a particularly nasty drink-fuelled encounter. It's oddly old fashioned, which is disappointing since it was made in an era of celebrities that bounce from rehab-to-rehab and much could be said about the topic. It's message seems to be that life is tough, which is hardly enlightening. To quote the film: "Bullshit." "Bulltrue!" Yeah, I don't know what that means either. C


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Me and Tennessee is such a glorious tune, I'm still sort of shocked that Coming Home was the Country Strong song that the Academy latched on to.

Glenn Dunks said...

Not really. "Me and Tennessee" is a credits-only song. "Coming Home", however, is given it's own production number in the film.