Everyone from Clint Eastwood to Reese Witherspoon has put on cowboy boots and played a country singer.
Gwyneth Paltrow takes her turn in the film Country Strong. She plays a fallen star recently released from rehab. Real-life country superstar Tim McGraw, wearing a beard borrowed from George Strait's screen performance in Pure Country, is the fictitious singer's husband/manager. It's a glitz-meets-twang tradition that dates back several decades.
MGM released the Hank Williams biopic Your Cheatin' Heart in 1964. George Hamilton portrayed the legendary singer. Or at least he made an attempt. Reviews were harsh, and it apparently didn't do much business at the box office. The film remains best known for its soundtrack, performed by a then 15-year-old Hank Williams Jr.
Robert Altman wonderfully maligns Music City with his 1975 masterpiece Nashville. Significant for its pioneering use of the multi character narrative structure, the movie also is notable for allowing the actors to sing. Keith Carradine, part of the outstanding ensemble cast, won an Oscar for performing his original song I'm Easy.
Coal Miner's Daughter, the greatest and most influential country music film of its kind, came out in 1980. Sissy Spacek played Eastern Kentucky native Loretta Lynn in an adaptation of the singer-songwriter's autobiography. A mother of four by age 19, Lynn recorded her first demo at the request of husband Doo Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones). The Lynns toured relentlessly, and Loretta became a sequin-wearing star. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, Coal Miner's Daughter resulted in an Oscar for Spacek. She did her her own singing — making this the norm for future actors playing country singers.
Eastwood directed and starred in the excellent, but largely overlooked, Honkytonk Man in 1982.
The next year found Robert Duvall as a booze-battling former country star in Tender Mercies. The critically and commercially successful film earned its leading actor an Oscar.
Then came Rhinestone in 1984. It starred Dolly Parton as a country star teaching Sylvester Stallone how to be a country crooner so she can win a bet. The movie bombed, ruining Parton's once-promising acting career.
In Sweet Dreams in 1985, Jessica Lange starred as Patsy Cline, earning an Oscar nomination despite choosing to lip-sync the music sequences.
In River Phoenix's final screen performance, in The Thing Called Love in 1993, he played an aspiring country singer balancing art and love. Critics panned the picture, and very few people saw it. A major star would not act in a country music film until 2005, when Phoenix's younger brother Joaquin Phoenix played Johnny Cash in the biopic Walk the Line. Phoenix and Witherspoon, in her Oscar-winning role as wife June Carter Cash, won over the masses with their portrayal of the loving couple who had to overcome Johnny's demons. Perhaps the greatest testament to the film's popularity came via the 2007 parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
Jeff Bridges picked up an Academy Award this year for his portrayal of an alcoholic has-been country star in Crazy Heart, clearly inspired by Tender Mercies. It even features a cameo by Duvall. The soundtrack album, featuring the Oscar-winning song The Weary Kind, also became a hit. The country music film genre had reached its highest level of popularity since the early 1980s.
Country Strong premiered in Nashville two weeks ago and is scheduled to hit theaters nationwide Jan. 7. Judging by the uninspiring trailer, it probably won't join the ranks of Coal Miner's Daughter, Tender Mercies, Walk the Line or Crazy Heart. But it can't be worse than Rhinestone.