‘Forever My Girl’ does not last
Written and directed by: Bethany Ashton Wolf
Starring: Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe and Abby Ryder Fortson
“Forever My Girl” – Eight years. A lot can happen in eight years.
A fourth grader will become a high school senior.
A U.S. president can spend two terms in office.
The French could build four more Eiffel Towers.
Americans built a manned rocket that landed on the moon, and actually, it only took seven years from JFK’s famous “Moon Speech” to Apollo 11.
The point is a lot can happen in eight years. For Liam Page (Alex Roe), he left the love of his life, Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar, but not a lot happened between them for eight years. In fact, nothing did.
While Liam shot into superstardom as a country music star, making records and selling out arenas all over the world, Josie remained in St. Augustine, La. (nicknamed Saint). She was heartbroken, but not deterred from moving on with her life. The two, however, did not speak to one another since that infamous day, four Eiffel Towers ago.
Eight years later, due to an awfully unfortunate event, Liam found himself back in Saint, and he awkwardly attempts to reconnect with Josie, with a hopeful possibility that they could fall in love again.
Based on the 2012 young adult novel by Heidi McLaughlin, writer/director Bethany Ashton Wolf’s picture paints a modern-day fairy tale in Cajun Country, but this story is very difficult to believe.
The film’s primary problem is that life’s rough edges are continually smoothed over or ignored in this bizarre alternative universe, an on-screen place where consequences for specific characters’ actions are never addressed in rational ways.
To start, in St. Augustine, the townspeople apparently circled the wagons and helped Josie cope with her grief and a specific subsequent consequence (that shall not be named in this review). In effect, the entire town picked sides and chose Josie, while Liam circled the globe and performed his music. He did not speak to her, but he also did not contact anyone in his hometown, including his father for eight long years. (Also, for the record, Liam’s dad, Brian (John Benjamin Hickey), is a local pastor, but even he lost faith in talking with his son.)
One would think in the world of social media, at least one Saint person – including a family member – would connect with Liam at least once, even by a fat-fingered smartphone accident. Alas, perhaps passive aggressiveness runs strong Saint. Also, Liam did not reach out over Facebook or Instagram either, even though he was hurting every single day – per his words – after inexplicably skipping town on his wedding day.
Liam looked for comfort, and he unfortunately soothed via substance abuse for several years, but upon his return to Louisiana, no hint of these problems appear to exist. Surely, moviegoers are not rooting for Liam to turn to drugs or alcohol while recourting Josie, but not addressing the issue feels all too convenient.
Curiously, the script doubles down in this space.
While home, Liam feels that Josie’s family plays life too safely, so he preaches, “Sometimes you got to let go, walk on the wild side and everything will be okay.”
With a history of substance abuse, walking “on the wild side” is probably not the best advice to offer, but Josie and her family gladly accept these words of wisdom without batting an eye. More key plot fulcrums raise some head scratching moments, such as Liam finding some magical off-screen time to write a brand new album that his manager keeps badgering him to do. Liam apparently wrote a collection of brand new inspirational tunes in a blink of an eye.
With key bats and blinks, “Forever My Girl” – again - steps into an alternative, illogical universe.
Admittedly, this universe is a pleasant and light one, so it is best not to take the events of the PG-rated, 1-hour 44-minute story too seriously, however, are these the healthiest life lessons for younger audiences?
Rothe does portray Josie as a strong woman, but is semi-emotionally holding onto Liam for almost a decade the best choice, and why exactly didn’t Liam ask for help over eight years or anyone on his management team notice?
These types of questions are never explored, and Roe and Rothe do not really receive very many chances to click into deeper themes or tap into on-screen chemistry. As a consolation, at least Liam finds time to open his dad’s eyes to better coffee in the morning. Hey, coffee is important!
An important point to note: Roe never sang in public before taking this role, and the actor does a very convincing job of portraying a country superstar. Roe makes it look seamless, and audiences will be impressed with his bravery and stage presence.
Well, what can Liam and Josie do for an encore in “Forever My Girl 2”? Not exactly sure. Perhaps, they can make better use of eight years and construct a manned rocket to Mars.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.