CREDIT: Jacob Yakob/Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment

This post was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey, Abby Ryder Fortson, Tyler Riggs, Peter Cambor, Gillian Vigman

Director: Bethany Ashton Wolf

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Keeping Deep-Seated Anger and Frustration Mostly Polite

Release Date: January 19, 2018

In gooey romances like Forever My Girl, we always find our way back to the ones who we truly love and who truly love us. But I wonder how someone like country music superstar Liam Page (Alex Roe) ever could have lost himself in the first place. Because when the facts are laid out, he just does not seem like the type of guy who would ever want to leave his lovely fiancée Josie (Jessica Rothe) at the altar. And when I ponder what it means that he in fact does do that, the implications are quite troubling, and I wish writer/director Bethany Ashton Wolf (adapting the book of the same name by Heidi McLaughlin) had shown more care in reckoning with all that.

Eight years have passed since Liam has bailed on marriage, cutting off all contact with Josie, his dad (John Benjamin Hickey), his friends, and everyone else in his hometown of Saint Augustine, Louisiana (referred to as just “Saint” by the locals) in the process. Now he is selling out stadiums, thanks to the success of his banal party-bro country songs with lyrics like “don’t water down my whiskey.” But he has always held on to a sort of talisman from his past life: his old flip phone from high school, as a voicemail saved there contains his last communication from Josie, sent to him just a few days after he jilted her. When he hears that one of his friends has died in an accident, he abandons the last stop of his tour to return home, and I get the sense that he’s been wanting to escape the big time for a while (more on that later).

As these stories tend to go, it turns out that Josie has a 7-year-old daughter, Billy (a poised Abby Ryder Fortson), and of course Liam is the dad, but because of his town-wide ghosting, he never knew about her until now. It wouldn’t be the best idea for Liam to suddenly become a major part of Billy’s life, considering how disruptive that can be for a young child, not to mention Liam is a not-very-independent adult who can barely take care of himself. But of course, you can see where this is going: Liam learns how to be a good dad, he and Billy bond over music, and he and Josie fall back in love, because they never really fell out of love in the first place.

While none of this reinvents the wheel (in fact, it rolls right along with it), it is not necessarily a problem. What is a problem, though, is the mishap that threatens to upend this new stability for such a silly, unnecessary reason. And compounding that are all the emotional beats to get Liam and Josie to their final resolution. Alex Roe and Jessica Rothe are perfectly lovely and winning. We can be happy to see them end up together, but it’s hard not to feel cheated to see some crappy behavior go unrectified.

Ultimately I am left puzzling over why in the first place Liam left the things that seem to make him happiest. His inner conflict is never presented as a fight between the glories of fame versus the comfort and responsibility of family. Nor is it even a matter of professional ambition versus personal happiness. Just about everyone in his life is totally supportive of him. Even his publicity team and handlers are good friends for the most part, advising him to take all the time he needs to mourn, despite being on the hook for lost tour revenue. So why then does he struggle to commit to Josie when it is clear she makes him fulfilled? The best guess I can come up with is that he must be suffering from anxiety, or some pathological fear or distrust of happiness, or some other mental condition. If only the film had realized what a broken soul were at its center, then it could have been genuinely touching.

Forever My Girl is Recommended If You Like: The Nicholas Sparks Brand of Romance, Cloying country music

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Hasty Reunions