Movie review: For an audience seeking fluffy, escapist, country-music-tinged romance, the film should hit a sweet spot. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
Romance novelist and screenwriter Nicholas Sparks cornered the market on a subgenre he essentially invented — exceedingly pleasant, Southern-set epic romances (between young, attractive, white, Christian, heterosexual couples). But this is a genre that overwhelmingly appeals to a female moviegoing audience, so it’s about time female creators have been given a place behind the camera to shape the voice and perspective of these stories. Writer/director Bethany Ashton Wolf has adapted Heidi McLaughlin’s novel in “Forever My Girl,” a tale of love lost and found.
Love is lost when homegrown country pop star Liam Page (Alex Roe) ditches his high-school sweetheart Josie (Jessica Rothe) at the altar during a frenzy surrounding his first hit single. Eight years later, he’s become the Justin Bieber of contemporary country music, an instantly recognizable, overly entitled enfant terrible.
Sad news from his hometown of Saint Augustine, Louisiana, sets Liam on course back home, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering manager Sam (Peter Cambor) and high-powered Hollywood publicist Doris (Gillian Vigman). No one at home seems to be all too pleased to see him either. Not his dad, Pastor Brian (John Benjamin Hickey), and definitely not his ex, who slugs him a good one. The only one who seems remotely interested is — drumroll, please — his 7-year-old daughter, Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson), whose existence comes as a complete surprise to Liam.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Forever My Girl,’ with Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, Abby Ryder Fortson, John Benjamin Hickey, Peter Cambor, Gillian Vigman. Written and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf. 104 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements including drinking, and for language. Several theaters.
The precocious Billy is the catalyst for Liam and Josie to reunite, and for Liam to leave his bad-boy ways behind. But she never feels like a real character. Instead, she’s simply a device to enable Liam to find himself. Even her name, Billy, is a reference to his deceased mother. In trying to answer the question “what happened,” the film twists itself up in ham-fisted psychological explanations. At a certain point, you wish the poor guy could just get some therapy.
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Rothe and Roe have a palpable chemistry, and she makes the most of her scorned Southern-belle role. But the film is truly a showcase for the British hunk Roe, who is gifted with a pair of piercing blue eyes and the ability to wear a T-shirt better than anyone else has ever worn a T-shirt.
“Forever My Girl” doesn’t stray from the formula or do anything revolutionary. But for an audience seeking fluffy, escapist, country music-tinged romance, it’ll hit a sweet spot.