“Forever My Girl” is a bad movie, pure and simple.
And pure and simple is just how writer and director Bethany Ashton Wolf likes it. You think bad country music is riddled with clichés? That’s nothing compared to this predictable exercise in feel-good hokum, about a country singer who gains great fame while losing his small-town roots. It plays like a cross between a bland romantic comedy and a hillbilly “Hard Day’s Night.”
Liam Page (Alex Roe, British but sporting a country accent) is from a small Louisiana town that he left behind — on his wedding day, with Josie (Jessica Rothe) at the altar — to pursue his career as a musician.
He succeeded in that, at least. At the beginning of the film he’s performing before an adoring throng at the Superdome in nearby New Orleans. When he steps off stage he asks his manager, Sam (Peter Cambor) if he saw the blonde in the front row?
Already on it, Sam tells him. She’s in the car on the way to the after-party. But Liam’s not interested. He just wants to head back to his hotel room with the woman, a bottle of vodka and a steak. Because while he’s outwardly successful, you see, inside he’s miserable.
The woman is so enthralled that she calls Liam by his full name the whole time, and jumps up and down on his ancient cellphone, which leads to a scene in which he runs to the nearest phone store barefoot with a gaggle of women and media chasing after him — seriously — to have it repaired. Because there is a VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE on the phone.
While he’s still in New Orleans an old friend gets killed, so he sneaks off for the funeral, whereupon Josie punches him in the stomach. The minister (the fine character actor John Benjamin Hickey) isn’t happy to see him either. And he’s his dad.
There’s more to it than resentment and heartbreak. What Liam didn’t know is that Josie was pregnant when they were about to marry. Thus the introduction of Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson), the daughter Liam never knew he had.
“You’re that country star my momma listens to sometimes,” Billy says, by way of introduction. Aha! A glimmer of hope, perhaps! But don’t sell Josie short. She’s spunky, which we know by the gut punch and the fact that she hides beer in the flower refrigerator at the florist shop she owns.
Maybe this is the wake-up call Liam needs. Maybe he can rekindle something with Josie, or be a good dad to Billy. Maybe he’s going to realize that all the riches in the world are no substitute for family and friends. Maybe if he’d ever been to a movie before he’d know all that beforehand.
Everybody tries real hard — Roe learned to sing so he could perform the songs himself – and the intentions are good. Fortson’s a lot of fun. Rothe can be, as in the surprisingly good “Happy Death Day.” But here they’re all stuck in an unoriginal story that glosses over every surface.
“This is movin’ way too fast,” Josie says at one point, to which you want to yell, “No, no, it’s not moving fast enough!” Let’s get the life lessons out of the way and move on.
Bill Goodykoontz, USA TODAY Network
Roadside Attractions presents a film written and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf, based on the book by Heidi McLaughlin. Rated PG (for thematic elements including drinking, and for language). Running time: 104 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.