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You have to give credit to Bethany Ashton Wolf’s adaptation of Heidi McLaughlin’s novel Forever My Girl‘ for not shying away from its clichés. This Hallmark Channel-style romance about a country music superstar who returns to his hometown after many years and discovers that he has a 7-year-old daughter proudly embraces its aw-shucks romanticism and family-friendly bromides. The film’s committed sincerity should well please its target audience.
The central characters are Liam Page (Alex Roe, The Fifth Wave), who has achieved fame and fortune as a country music singer-songwriter, and Josie (Jessica Rothe), the woman he abandoned at the altar eight years earlier to pursue his dream of stardom. Liam, who reduces his fans to wide-eyed catatonia when he’s in their presence, takes ample advantage of his privileged situation. Spotting a beautiful blonde in the front row at his arena concert, he orders his manager to make sure that she’s sent up to his hotel room.
RELEASE DATE Jan 19, 2018
Liam’s underlying unhappiness becomes evident the next morning, when the hapless groupie steps on his vintage cellphone and breaks it. Desperate to have it repaired so he can retrieve a message, he races barefoot down a New Orleans street and bursts into a phone store, promising $10,000 to whoever can fix it.
When Liam finds out that his former best friend has been killed in a car accident, he returns to his small Louisiana hometown for the funeral. He finds a distinctly chilly reception from the residents and even his own father (John Benjamin Hickey), the local pastor, whom he hasn’t bothered to contact since he left years earlier. But Liam decides to stick around for a while after he runs into his former girlfriend Josie (Rothe) and quickly figures out that he’s the father of her precocious 7-year-old daughter Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson).
You can pretty much guess the rest of the plot, as Liam, much to his manager’s and publicist’s consternation, temporarily abandons his high-flying musical career and settles down to repair his relationship with his father, attempt to win back the love of his life and get to know the daughter he didn’t know he had. It’s not an easy task, especially since he has led such an apparently sheltered existence that he doesn’t carry credit cards or own a car and has no clue how to make an internet purchase. Of course, such practicalities don’t necessarily matter since, when he finally gets Josie to agree to go out with him on a date, he’s able to whisk her to New Orleans on a private helicopter.
Forever My Girl features a nice authenticity in its depiction of the details of small-town life, such as the table inside a church featuring a pile of hats that congregants have placed there upon entering. Unfortunately, the film’s characterizations and plot elements are far more artificial-feeling, including the little girl who casually throws around such phrases as “process the news” and “walk on the wild side.” She also says that she isn’t impressed by Liam’s music. “Not really my cup of tea, no offense,” she tells him, sounding like a British dowager. Later, she changes her tune and reveals an instinctive talent for playing guitar.
The storyline’s more melodramatic moments — including Liam becoming helplessly frozen when Billy nearly chokes to death on some food, leading to the revelation of a childhood trauma that’s left lingering emotional scars — border on cringe-inducing. On the other hand, it’s difficult to entirely resist the film’s heartwarming portrait of decent people who genuinely care for each other and strive to do the right thing.
The two leads are both highly appealing, with Roe credible as a country music superstar whose repertoire includes such original songs as “Don’t Water Down My Whiskey” and Rothe delivering a warm portrayal that’s miles away from her recent starring role in the horror film Happy Death Day. Hickey projects a quiet dignity as Liam’s pastor dad, and Travis Tritt enhances the film’s country music bona fides with his brief supporting turn.
Production company: LD Entertainment
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Cast: Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, Abby Ryder Fortson, Travis Tritt, John Benjamin Hickey, Tyler Riggs
Director-screenwriter: Bethany Ashton Wolf
Producers: Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Jennifer Monroe
Executive producers: Alison Semenza, Nicole Stojkovich, Zach Trann
Director of photography: Duane Manwiller
Production designer: John Collins
Costume designer: Eulyn C. Hufkie
Composer: Brett Boyett
Rated PG, 104 minutes
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