By: Steve Pulaski
Alongside love stories, you could argue that stories about redemption are some of the most quintessential to film, speaking holistically. It's not hard to see why these distinct types of stories have interwoven themselves into becoming two of the most popular kinds of stories movies like to tell: most of us would like to fall in love and we'd like to believe that people could be good if given a second chance. The sad realization comes when one realizes that maybe love isn't all it's made out to be, and perhaps more significantly, some people just aren't worthy of our forgiveness. Building upon the latter, some people just aren't worthy of being given a second chance if they've already done irreparable damage to our lives or have done something so inexcusable that they are unworthy of our trust. I reserve the second chances I give people who have wronged me or those I love for the ones whom I believe deserve it the most, and like a world-class movie about love, redemption, or some combination of both, it shouldn't come as a surprise that those people are very rare.
Before I continue, allow me to illustrate a scenario: Liam Page (Alex Roe) is a young kid from New Orleans, who is on his way to a fruitful marriage with Josie (Happy Death Day's Jessica Rothe) when he's apparently noticed by a record executive during karaoke in a bar. He loves his voice and signs him up for a big tour out of the blue just as Liam and Josie are about to tie the knot; Liam is a no-show at the wedding. Eight years later, Liam is one of the hottest country music stars in the industry, but one of his most human qualities the fact that every day, for the last eight years, Liam revisits the final voicemail Josie left on his beat-up, decade-old flip-phone. After a groupie breaks his phone and he rushes to get it repaired, Liam apparently has some kind of epiphany that inspires him to go back to Louisiana to get in contact with Josie.
He stays with his Pastor father (John Benjamin Hickey), who holds contempt for him much like the rest of the people in their town, as he tries to patch things up with his ex-fiancee. Upon reconnecting with Josie, Liam realizes that they have a seven-year-old daughter named Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson); after seeing this, he is more motivated than ever to try and get back into their lives. By picking Billy up from school every day and continuing to put off writing songs and filling his fans in as to where he's been during his downtime, we're supposed to see Liam as a man committed to change.
There are many things wrong with Bethany Asthon Wolf's Forever My Girl, which is based off Heidi McLaughlin's book of the same name, but let's start with the small details. For one, I find it immensely hard to believe the biggest country music singer on the planet does not have a smartphone, and furthermore, is also soft-hearted enough to listen to his former girlfriend's voicemail daily, but so hard-headed not to call her until eight years later. Secondly, I find Billy to be one of the most insufferable renditions of the "precocious child" cliche in recent memory, and between Logan, Gifted, and Logan Lucky, you can't say, as moviegoers, we haven't had our fair-share of late. Finally, I can't fathom what Roadside Attractions saw in this material to give it a theatrical release when there are carbon-copies of this kind of overwrought romance-drama airing weekly on CMT and the Hallmark Channel.
Moreover, the simple fact is this: I don't buy Liam Page as a character worthy of our, or Josie's, forgiveness, and you shouldn't either. Society forgives way too many deadbeat dads as is, and the fact that we watch a well-meaning, self-sufficient woman like Josie fall prey to a despicable, moody louse that hardly ever shows a shred of empathy or convincing human emotion throughout this entire film is a sad way to spend 104 minutes on any given day. It's unthinkable that Wolf (who also serves as the film's writer), and McLaughlin, for that matter, would undermine the strength of their female character by having her so swiftly fall back in love with someone like Liam all over again, especially to the point of trusting her with the kid he didn't know existed for seven long years.
The "awes" Forever My Girl will undoubtedly spawn from viewers old and young shows successful conditioning on a public more than willing to accept complete neglect and irresponsibility from a male character because it's allegedly one of those "rough patches" every relationship goes through. Putting up with Liam's good ol' boy goofiness and inability to take on adult responsibilities is just something you might have to deal with if you want that country kid's charm equipped with his knockout smile lying next to you at the end of a long day. As you can probably infer, this is how things operate in Nicholas Sparks-land, and while Forever My Girl does not belong to the wildly successful romance writer's oeuvre, it exists in the same frothy bubble that gives those who buy into this escapism both terrible expectations and disturbingly inaccurate depictions love. Sure you could say Forever My Girl is good viewing for a sleepy Sunday, but you'd be much better and more mentally clear by just staying asleep.