Country Strong: Why Paltrow Isn't America's Sweetheart

America's Sweetheart she isn't. What's our beef with Gwyneth?

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Scott Garfield / Screen Gems

Gwyneth Paltrow in Country Strong

In the unfortunately weak Country Strong, Gwyneth Paltrow plays country-and-western singer Kelly Canter, an alcoholic. She struts, sings, swills, sleeps around and in some truly perilous acting moments, intended to be rich with metaphor, cradles an orphaned baby bird. Anytime an actress steps this far out of her comfort zone, without a strong script to support her, she has to hope audiences are on her side. And they might be, if this were Sandra Bullock, say, or perhaps Jennifer Garner. But this is Paltrow, the American actress whose achievements seem to have piled up in reverse proportion to the goodwill she inspires. If there's an opposite of America's Sweetheart, she's it.

How did this happen? Things started off so well. Paltrow earned deserved praise for films like Emma and Sliding Doors and took home an Oscar at 26 for the winning Shakespeare in Love. A decade ago she was cool enough for Wes Anderson to cast her in The Royal Tenenbaums, playing the aloof and miserable Margot. Now that character seems to have leached over into the public perception of Paltrow herself.

Envy would be the first suspect. Paltrow came to Hollywood as a wealthy insider (her mother is Blythe Danner; the father she lost to cancer in 2002 was director Bruce Paltrow) and dated Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck before marrying British rock star Chris Martin. She has two adorable children, and though 38, she is capable of carrying off shorts with 2-in. (5 cm) inseams. She seems perpetually at her physical peak, which gives her a vibe reminiscent of Dorian Gray. She pals around with Mario Batali, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Even her Spanish is pretty.

When word got out that she'd be making a guest appearance on Glee in November, Gleeks viewed this as an invasion; the woman Britain's Daily Mail once called "the blonde bore" seemed more likely to be a slushie thrower than a kindred spirit to the glee club's misfits. She then proceeded to turn in such a solid performance as a suspiciously perfect substitute teacher (a spoof of her own image; clearly she has a sense of humor) that even her detractors had a hard time denying she was great. Still, the praise had an edge: the New York Times noted that her performance all but erased the recent perception of her as a "smug, unbearable scold." Note the all but. The woman who is clearly one of life's winners can't seem to get ahead in the public-opinion polls.

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