The stories told in most country songs are pretty rudimentary, and so is the one Bethany Ashton Wolf relates about a self-absorbed country-western superstar forced to confront his responsibilities in “Forever My Girl.” Using a novel by Heidi McLaughlin as inspiration, to use that term loosely indeed, Wolf has fashioned a sappy, mawkish romantic drama about Liam Page (Alex Roe), who left his small-town fiancée Josie (Jessica Rothe) literally at the altar for a life of musical success, only to return to his childhood home in St. Augustine, Louisiana eight years later (moved by the sudden death of an old friend) to find her the single mother of an adorable daughter named Billy (Abby Rider Forsten), who’s just a bit over seven, of course.
The revelation comes as a shock to Liam, who’s spent the intervening years becoming a country-western icon, his face gracing the cover of every fan magazine there is. He’s also turned into a rather spoiled, self-indulgent bad boy, encouraged by his pushy publicist Doris (Gillian Vigman) and only barely kept in line by his good-natured but frazzled road manager Sam (Peter Cambor). Yet he cherishes his old cell phone, simply because it contains Josie’s last message to him—you know, the one he never answered.
Liam is determined to do the right thing once he finds out about Billy, wanting to get close to Josie again, and to get to know his daughter, who turns out—miraculously—to possess hidden musical talent. Josie’s brother Jake (Tyler Riggs) is not too happy about his reappearance, but Liam’s father Brian (John Benjamin Hickey), the local pastor, welcomes his son back into the modest family home with a knowing smile and barely a hint of a discouraging word. (He also serves to provide some comic relief surrounding the coffee maker Liam buys him.)
Much of “Forever My Girl” is devoted to Liam’s renewed romancing of Josie (including one of those extravagant outings rich guys often indulge in to impress their inamoratas, complete with a helicopter ride to New Orleans and a session in a horse-drawn carriage there), and his bonding with Billy. But he is beset with doubts about whether he has the stuff to be a good father—his reluctance to commit is explained in very simplistic psychological terms by flashbacks to the death of his mother—while Doris and Sam keep reminding him of his obligations to his fans and the record label that pays him. It comes as no surprise, however, that in the end everything turns out sweetly.
Roe cuts a handsome figure as Liam, though it’s hard to believe for an instant that’s he’s a superstar in any field, while Rothe does a hundred and eighty degree turn from her role in “Happy Death Day,” morphing from a hard-as-nails mean girl to a young mother with a totally bland personality. Forsten is one of those uber-precocious sitcom kids you might tire of pretty quickly, while the rest of the cast go through their paces without a hint of the irony the story would seem to demand. (Among them is singer Travis Tritt, who plays a fellow who sings at the town’s watering hole and reminiscences about appearing there with Liam’s mom.)
This is a modest production and looks it, with Georgia locations standing in for the little town of St. Augustine. For the record John Collins served as production designer, Duane Mankiller as cinematographer, and Priscilla Nedd-Friendly as editor. Brett Boyett contributed the nondescript music score, and collaborated with Jackson Odell on the forgettable songs.
The publicity likens this movie to those made from Nicholas Sparks’ books. Unhappily, the comparison is all too apt.