Although he comes across as self-serving, James may have a point: Kelly has taken a codependent shine to Beau Hutton (Hedlund), a young singer-songwriter who works as an orderly at her rehabilitation center. Kelly refuses to go on tour without her lover and insists on making Beau her opening act. But James has already chosen his protege, beauty-queen-turned-singer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), to warm the crowds. Unable to compromise, the couple take Beau and Chiles on the road, steering the tour toward an inevitable emotional wreck.
Feste deserves credit for populating her on-screen world with multidimensional humans who have singular strengths and flaws. But the filmmaker doesn't give the foursome adequate backstories, leaving viewers with more nagging questions than rooting interest in the characters.
Likewise, the auteur warrants praise for not treating alcoholism as a quick-fix issue, but she earns groans for depending on the old trope of Kelly nursing an injured baby bird as a metaphor for the addict's fragile recovery. The movie explores dark places that aren't reflected in the bright tone of the trailers.
Along with the entertaining concert scenes, “Country Strong” features some poignant moments, particularly when Kelly charms a pediatric cancer patient on a Make-A-Wish mission. But the melodrama hits too many false notes to qualify as a country classic.
— Brandy McDonnell