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'Forever My Girl': A Familiar Tune, Played (Too) Simply

Country, Wronged: Music star Liam Page (Alex Roe) returns to his hometown, and his ex Josie (Jessica Rothe), whom he left to pursue his career.
Jacob Yakob
Roadside Attractions
Country, Wronged: Music star Liam Page (Alex Roe) returns to his hometown, and his ex Josie (Jessica Rothe), whom he left to pursue his career.

Based on a YA novel by Heidi McLaughlin, the endearingly old-fangled Forever My Girl is basically a stretched-out country music song with eye-catching Southern visuals and a familiar loop of lovelorn sorrow topped with uplift you can see coming from scene one.

The woe comes on fast when a dewy young bride named Josie (Jessica Rothe) gets jilted at the altar by her high-school sweetheart, Liam, a pretty, green-eyed fellow with a lot of fetching chin stubble. He and his music are nicely played by Alex Roe, who is British but not so's you'd notice. Eager to hit the big time, a panicked Liam takes off for New Orleans, though why he can't take Josie with him is a mystery that will languish unexplained until shortly before the close.

Eight years pass, and we find Liam, a deeply unhappy country music god in all the usual ways — drugs, booze, groupies. He writes and performs songs with blaring themes like "I'd Give it All Up for You." Concertgoers, average age thirteen, are ecstatic, but Liam sits around pining over a message on an ancient cell phone until a convenient tragedy propels him homeward. There he lands in deep doo-doo with a singularly unreceptive Josie, to say nothing of his entire hometown populace and his father, who happens to be the local pastor.

Liam may have been golden among the fleshpots of New Orleans, but when he first blows into town, everyone wants to slug him or ignore him. Everyone, that is, except for a feisty young girl named Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson), who is lumbered with dialogue better suited to a cocky teenager, and who is destined to bestow much-needed character-firming on the prodigal from out of town.

Writer-director Bethany Ashton Wolf has a deft way with actors, and Peter Cambor is especially good as Liam's long-suffering but humane manager. The movie flows along atmospherically with a country soundtrack corralling our emotions. The problem is not the well-worn plot or familiar characters, but the fact that Wolf adds no depth or complication to either that would make the film her own.

Marinated in country-music mythology, Forever My Girl extracts every last ounce of juice from the potent fantasy binary of small town integrity versus big city sin, before marrying the two with minimal fuss and bother that must have looked plausible on paper. One sermon about forgiveness from the pastor, and instant turnaround ensues. Copious hugging ensues as well, and in a trice Liam is happily digging flowerbeds and coming on like a mature family man.

Of running time necessity, the love of his life defrosts more slowly, until at last we arrive at the statutory eleventh-hour lapse the almost derails Liam's makeover, but helps him get in touch with the source of his pain. Not that anyone in this pleasant, glib movie has to sacrifice a thing. Josie may be a small-town girl, but it turns out that she, too, knows how to play to the roar of the crowd in the fleshpots of New Orleans. Cakes are had and eaten, all's well between the country and the city, and ... that's a wrap.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ella Taylor is a freelance film critic, book reviewer and feature writer living in Los Angeles.