At some point, most of us have walked away from at least one thing that we wish we could go back to. It could be a family member, a friend, a job, or love, but there’s likely one dark spot in everyone’s past. That’s an idea addressed by Bethany Ashton Wolf’s Forever My Girl, and while the adaptation of Heidi McLaughlin’s novel highlights an interesting idea about time and regret, the film mostly boils down to a run-of-the-mill, Nicholas Sparks-esque love story set in a picturesque town.
Liam Page (Alex Roe) is a country music star at the top of his game and on top of the world. He can have any woman he wants, and his life is a non-stop party, but alas, there’s something broken inside of him that keeps him from achieving happiness. However, upon learning that one of his best friends from childhood has died in a car accident, Page returns to the small Louisiana town that he left behind, and faces Josie (Jessica Rothe) — the woman that he left at the altar eight years earlier. As he slowly reintegrates himself into the community that he abandoned, he discovers that he left far more than just Josie behind when he learns that his ex-fiancée has a 7-year-old daughter named Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson).
At its core, Forever My Girl basically tells a City Mouse/Country Mouse story. Liam is a big-shot country music star with all of the money in the world, but he’s seemingly hopeless actually going to the store and buying things for himself. Josie is the opposite; she’s tough and emotionally mature, but doesn’t have much of a worldview that extends beyond her city limits. If it sounds cliché, that’s because it is, and the film adheres to that idea by mostly sticking to fun montages that skirt around the harder questions posed by the movie’s premise. As a result, Forever My Girl jumps around a lot, and some major character beats — particularly for Liam’s father (John Benjamin Hickey) — happen off-screen to maintain the film’s approachable and sweet tone.
That character issue becomes worse because neither of the leads is really given much to do. Jessica Rothe and Alex Roe have both proven themselves as talented actors in recent years, but in Forever My Girl they’re not given much to work with. They look good together, but the film implies some serious emotional baggage that it doesn’t seem interested in exploring. Both Liam and Josie have clear emotional issues that have persisted since he left her on their wedding day almost a decade ago, but the film seems content to merely suggest that a love-conquers-all mentality will be enough. No further questions asked, and few see fit to call out the fact that Liam’s return might not actually be good for Josie, a capable single mother with a thriving small business and an active social life.
It’s frustrating to point that type of issue out in a review because Forever My Girl either intentionally or unintentionally sidesteps all of the sources of real drama in Liam and Josies’ lives in favor of rekindling a sentimental romance. Remember, Liam returns because one of his best friends dies, and an unexpected death is an even bigger loss than usual in a small town where everyone knows each other. Moreover, there are people aside from Josie and Liam’s father in this community who have every right to hate Liam, but most of those issues get swept under the rug by the first act break. We get small glimpses and nods to this community grief and anger throughout the movie, but little to none of it bleeds over to our central story. Instead, the film seems content to tell a story about two beautiful people falling back in love with minimal conflict or protest on either side.
The best thing to say about Forever My Girl is that it looks good. There’s an infectious, folksy sensibility to the story, and if you’re already a country fan, then it will feel like one of your favorite songs has come to life. Even with that emphasis on southern charm, however, Forever My Girl still leans far too aggressively into the sweetness to tell its story. Between storytelling clichés like a sassy, fast-talking little girl who’s wise beyond her years (Billy even quotes car accident statistics for a laugh), to the hordes of groupies who run after Liam on the street as if he’s The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night, it’s all just lighthearted fun based on tropes and ideas that we have seen before.
For some, this overly-saccharine and generally harmless sensibility might work. In a world where dark and brooding stories seem to reign supreme, it’s appealing to find a movie where things pretty much go completely right for our heroes. If you’re one of those people who can’t hold back the waterworks for a soppy love story, Forever My Girl might be right for you.
Sweet and dull to a fault, Forever My Girl forgoes interesting characters or story in favor of a picturesque southern tableau. It’s pretty, but there’s not much else there. There is a reason why Lifetime movies exist, and Forever My Girl very much offers up that similar sense of safe, down-home fun. In that regard, Forever My Girl can provide some surface level entertainment, but that doesn’t change the fact that it still reads like a lower-tier Nicholas Sparks adaptation. At a certain point, you would just be better off throwing The Notebook into your Blu-ray player for the umpteenth time.