Forever My Girl

Forever-My-Girl-rev Forever My Girl  (2018)    Roadside Attractions/Drama    RT: 104 minutes    Rated PG (thematic elements including drinking, language)    Director: Bethany Ashton Wolf    Screenplay: Bethany Ashton Wolf    Music: Brett Boyett    Cinematography: Duane Mankiller    Release date: January 19, 2018 (US)    Cast: Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, Abby Ryder Fortson, John Benjamin Hickey, Tyler Riggs, Peter Cambor, Gillian Vigman, Morgan Alexandria, Lauren Gros, Travis Tritt, Judith Hoag.

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 It’s been two years since the last Nicholas Sparks adaption (2016’s The Choice); his fans must be climbing the walls, fiending for a fix of schmaltz. They can finally relax. Forever My Girl may not have been written by Sparks (the book from which it’s adapted is actually by Heidi McLaughlin) but it follows the same basic formula with its themes of love, second chances, forgiveness and redemption.

 Forever-My-GirlOver the years, I’ve become quite cynical where movies are concerned. It’s one of the hazards of the trade. If I was still 14, I’d probably love movies like Sausage Party, Rings and the whole Transformers oeuvre. But I’m not and I don’t. However, there are a few types of movies I still dig. I love a good bloody horror movie. I love a good kick-ass action flick. And, oddly enough, I love sappy-sweet romantic dramas like Forever My Girl. I like seeing a world in which people are willing to forgive others for their faults or wrongdoings. I like seeing a world populated by basically decent people, one where even the worst of enemies can become the best of friends by the time the end credits roll. Most importantly, I love a world where people still fall in love or back in love. This is the world in which Forever My Girl takes place.

 Country singer Liam Page (Roe, The 5th Wave) returns to his Louisiana hometown for the first time since ditching his fiancee Josie (Rothe, Happy Death Day) at the altar eight years earlier to chase fame and fortune. Everybody in town hates him for what he did to Josie who greets him with a hard punch to the gut. His father Brian (Hickey, Flags of Our Fathers), the town pastor, isn’t thrilled to see his prodigal son either. Liam, who’s colossally unhappy in his life as a superstar, wants to be part of his ex’s life again, especially after meeting the daughter, seven-year-old Billy (Fortson, Ant-Man), he never knew he had. He would have known had he responded to the message Josie left him eight years earlier begging him to call her back, the same one he listens to everyday on his old beat-up cell phone.

 Liam decides he wants to stick around and be a father to his daughter. The question is how long will he actually stay. His publicist (Vigman, New Girl), who keeps the public at bay with a story about Liam entering a Caribbean rehab clinic, is pressuring him to return so he can go on tour in Europe. As Liam grows closer to Billy, he and Josie start to fall back in love.

 There’s never any doubt as to the outcome of Forever My Girl. It’s predictable and routine but never boring. I really like this movie but it does have its share of flaws, mainly with the story. It feels like scenes were cut out prior to it being released. A character that folks keep buying flowers for (Josie owns a flower shop) is mentioned but never introduced. Who is this person? Why mention her multiple times if she doesn’t play a role in the story? Country star Travis Tritt shows up in a cameo as a local who used to sing at a local bar with Liam’s deceased mother. Based on the way the two characters talk, I get the feeling he had a larger role at some point. The part of the story dealing with the animosity between Liam and Josie’s big brother Jake (Riggs, Boomtown) is underwritten. Also, Josie seems to get over being angry at Liam pretty quickly once he returns home. You’d think that there would be a lot more yelling and resentment after eight years of silence but given the world Forever My Girl takes place in, I’m willing to accept it.

 There are quite a few things in Forever My Girl that you just have to accept. Like the father turning the townspeople in Liam’s favor by delivering a sermon about forgiveness. Like Liam’s loyal manager/best friend (Cambor, NCIS: LA) who sticks by him no matter how much the spoiled star takes him for granted. He’s the one who sets Liam straight about family and being a dad in the movie’s third act. Another thing you have to accept is Billy. She’s one of those kids you only see in movies. She talks like a little adult, explaining to Liam on their first meeting that she’s small for her age. Later, she schools him on the dangers of riding in a convertible, rattling off statistics like she’s reciting the alphabet. This kid gives new meaning to the term precocious. The question is where she gets it. Her mother doesn’t strike me as a worry-wart. It’s a good thing Fortson is an appealing young actress; otherwise, Billy’s routine would quickly get annoying.

 Where Forever My Girl succeeds is in Liam’s redemption, simplistic though it may be. It’s basically a retread of 1992’s Pure Country in which George Strait’s character escaped his hectic superstar life by hiding out in a small town where he falls in love with a local girl. The love story between Liam and Josie is nice. The two actors have good chemistry. Roe, who hides his British accent very well, is quite good as Liam. Rothe is even better as Josie. I truly believe this actress is going places. Hickey is also good as Liam’s dad who must also learn to forgive.

 Written and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf (Little Chenier), Forever My Girl is a sweet little movie that doesn’t overdo it with its religious themes. It’s not the slightest bit preachy. There may be a few narrative issues but I doubt the target audience will mind. It’s a great movie for 13-year-olds going out on their first date. It’s also a nice movie for mothers to see with their young daughters, particularly those tired of Disney movies. It’s rated PG so there are no embarrassing questions to answer later. It’s just a nice movie that will make you feel good. It might even jerk a tear or two. 

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