Forever My Girl, a slight, sunny Southern romance, begins with bride-to-be Josie (Jessica Rothe) being abandoned at the altar by Liam (Alex Roe), her country-music-star fiancé, who chooses the spotlight over small-town life. The story then jumps ahead eight years. Liam is now a superstar. He’s dynamic on-stage but a drunk, broken-down mess off of it. Why? He still pines for Josie, his first and only true love. As luck (or sloppy screenwriting) would have it, Liam is playing a concert near his hometown of St. Augustine, LA, when he learns that a former high-school buddy was killed in a car crash. Liam hightails it to Saint (the locals just call their Mayberry-like town Saint) to attend the funeral. Of course, he bumps into Josie and her adorable seven-year-old daughter Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson) while he’s there. Now, Liam is no Einstein (he doesn’t even know how to go about making a purchase on the Internet), but even he can do simple arithmetic and figure out that the little girl (who shares his late mother’s name, for heaven’s sake) is his. From there…well, you can figure out the rest, which is the movie’s main problem. Zero surprises await us.
Forever My Girl -- which was written and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf, and adapted from a novel by Heidi McLaughlin -- obviously wasn’t made for critics or for demanding cinephiles. Its target audience are Hallmark-movie devotees and folks who plunk down good money to see Nicholas Sparks adaptations. And for that crowd, Forever My Girl works just fine. It’s uplifting and sweetly romantic, and contains absolutely nothing offensive. Its PG rating is never threatened; heck, if Liam hadn’t woken up in a Big Easy hotel room and found a fresh-faced groupie there, with whom he apparently spent the night, the film could have easily landed a G rating. Having said all that, even Hallmark movies tend to pit the guy we all know will end up with the girl against a handsome dude we know is the wrong choice. But drop-dead-gorgeous Josie apparently never turned another head in Saint over the past eight years, which is a shame -- not to mention unbelievable -- since it robs the movie of much needed drama.
Roe and Rothe make a cute couple, but, alas, neither is able to rise above the level of the bottom-drawer material they’ve been given. Roe is most dynamic when he’s on-stage. When he’s belting out a rowdy anthem (“Don’t Water Down My Whiskey”) or singing an endearing duet with Fortson (“Finally Home”), he’s soulful and magnetic. Not so much off-stage. Speaking of music, the best thing about Forever My Girl is its soundtrack, which is flooded with snippets from country stars like Little Big Town, Josh Turner, Dan Tyminski, Lauren Alaina, and Miranda Lambert. But best of all is an all-too-brief cameo by Travis Tritt, who plays a local crooner entertaining patrons at a Saint bar, and who gives Liam a quick, off-the-cuff pep talk. Unfortunately, his song, “Slowing Down,” is given short shrift. Wolf should have realized that she had a genuine country star on-screen and slowed down her movie long enough to let him sing it. Why else is he there? It’s a head-scratching choice in a film that’s filled with them.