In the twangy romance Forever My Girl, a debauched country star returns home and runs into his former sweetheart, the woman he left at the altar seven years ago.
His name is Liam Page (Alex Roe), and he has a selfish streak as prominent as his bangs.
In the opening scenes, we see him wow an enthusiastic crowd, be rude to his manager, spend a night with a groupie, and wake up in an unspecified stupor. It is in this state the he learns an old friend has died, news that prompts him to ditch his tour and return to his Louisiana hometown for the funeral.
I say unspecified because Forever My Girl positions itself as a wholesome family film. It stays resolutely within the boundaries of a PG rating, and therefore soft-pedals Liam’s alcoholism. He asks for a bottle to be sent to his room, but we never see it. Back home, he buys a bottle of liquor, but doesn’t drink from it — just sits on a stoop holding the bag, which might as well contain extra-virgin olive oil.
In any event, folks in his hometown are not glad to see him. Liam is used to being fawned over, but the townsfolk ignore him or call him “jerk.” Checkout clerks give him the brush-off. His dad (John Benjamin Hickey) rebukes him and makes him ride his old bicycle into town.
Everyone is still peeved at the way Liam ditched high school sweetheart Josie (Jessica Rothe, from Happy Death Day) on their wedding day — without explanation (an ambiguity that turns out to be preferable to the soapy, here’s-why-I-drink monologue we get from Liam in the closing moments of the film).
Josie has moved on — she has her own flower shop now, and she’s a strong country girl, as the soundtrack keeps reminding us. (It’s peppered with tunes performed by Josh Turner, Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town, Canaan Smith, and others.).
There are a lot of strong-woman anthems to be heard, but some gospel, too (Lauren Alaina sings “Wings of an Angel”) , and Forever My Girl takes its narrative to church, where sermons about the power of forgiveness start to hint where the story is headed.
The movie also trumpets hometown values, and makes fun of the way Liam’s wealth and fame have insulated him from simple pleasures of small-town life (underlined by director Bethany Ashton Wolf’s cozy visual presentation). The movie pokes fun at his materialism, when it’s not indulging in it. As Josie’s frosty heart starts to melt, there are teddy bears, jewelry, helicopter trips, and carriage rides. Even Nicholas Sparks would blush. But perhaps not Heidi McLaughlin, who wrote the book from which the film is adapted.
The music, it should be noted, is not bad. Liam wanders into a saloon, where a balladeer is wrapping up a song called “Slowing Down.” Pretty good singin’ and strummin’ for a dive bar, and no wonder — it’s Travis Tritt.
As Liam Page, Roe sings his own songs and does a good job imitating a country-and-western singer, especially since his actual country is England, and he’s western in the sense that England is part of western civilization.
Forever My Girl
Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf. With Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, Travis Tritt, John Benjamin Hickey, Judith Hoag, and Abby Ryder Fortson. Distributed by Roadside Attractions. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. Parents guide: PG. Playing at: Area theaters.