Forever My Girl

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 19, 2018

Forever My Girl

"Forever My Girl" is complete wish fulfillment, a Cinderella story from the perspective of the gently flawed Prince Charming. It's as heartfelt and sentimental as a Collin Raye ballad, but if you're looking for complex characters or realistic human interaction, look elsewhere.

Country music superstar Liam Page (Alex Roe) learns about the death of his estranged best friend from high school and returns to his hometown in St. Augustine, Louisiana, to pay his respects. He isn't a welcome sight for the town folk, especially his high school sweetheart, Josie (Jessica Rothe), whom he left at the altar. He abandoned everyone in town that day, including his father, the town's ecclesiastical patriarch, Pastor Brian (John Benjamin Hickey), and daughter he didn't know he had, Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson).

While attempting to get to know his child, Liam mends the rifts he made between his family and friends. But when push comes to shove he realizes that his failure to commit to people stems from his own childhood trauma. But this is something the love of a good woman can get him through - if Josie will take him back.

Roe as Liam is a drop-dead heartthrob from the moment we meet him, singing with soul-full sincerity and a sweat-soaked tee shirt that clings to his lean, muscular torso. His perpetual three-day stubble says, "I'm a little bit of a bad boy," and his deep blue-green eyes and long lashes say, "But I'm also vulnerable and I need someone to reform me." So Josie doesn't put up much of a fight, though rekindling this romance has so many ways of going wrong.

The precocious 7-year-old Billy bears Liam no resentment and easily welcomes him into her life. Whereas most parents struggle with the day-to-day difficulties of raising a child, these guys just keep learning that their adorable daughter has yet another prodigious talent.

And though Hickey doesn't have much to work with in his character of Pastor Brian - it's as uncomplicated and straightforward as they come - he's such a talented actor that his presence gives a profundity to the whole film. This helps you overlook the lack of any kind of serious conflict.

Shot in Georgia, the beautiful location scenery is always nice to look at, and packed with original country western songs from some hit artists, the soundtrack does much to carry the film. (In one scene, Liam walks into a bar and hears a man singing at an open mic. No one seems to pay much attention, but the guy is damn good. I learned in the credits that the actor was Travis Tritt.)

Writer and director Bethany Ashton Wolf has had a hard time making a name for herself. Her directorial debut got good reviews but struggled to find distribution, and the first film she wrote, an angsty indy starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Tobey Maguire, has been forbidden from being released in the United States. In spite of this, "Forever My Girl" could be successful. Critics will pan it, but it has all the elements necessary for box office success, including a sexy (yet wholesome) cast, an adorable child, and an America where dreams come true.

Wolf bases her script on a novel by Heidi McLaughlin, the kind of writer whose prolific paperbacks feature glossy covers decorated with shirtless men - they're shredded, air-brushed and often faceless. But "Forever My Girl" is part of her Beaumont Series, a new group of books that dampens down the eroticism, focusing instead on things like small town sweethearts, high school football heroes, and church-centered communities.

But Wolf scrubs the story even cleaner, making her hero less flawed and lowering the stakes for the audience. We see very little of Liam's bad boy side in the movie. He's mostly just inept. He doesn't need to be responsible because his buddy and manager Sam (Peter Cambor) handles all of his needs. In the book, Liam not only indulges in commitment-free sex with a bunch of groupies, but he also gets jiggy with Sam. Don't get too worked up; Sam's a woman book. But he gets her pregnant. Needless to say, there's no such rakishness in the movie.

No one would call this film a triumph of feminism, but you could say it's been shot from an idealistic female gaze. In addition to being attractive, all the men in this film are sensitive, unbelievably loving and supportive. "Forever My Girl" is porn for those who lust for home and family. Love is destiny, no one needs to worry about money, child rearing is simplicity itself, and a woman can always change her man for the better.