“FOREVER MY GIRL”
Like so many of the best country songs, “Forever My Girl” doesn’t leave much up to interpretation.
It takes place in a small Southern town called Saint, that always seems to be bathed in a yellow saintly glow, including over the small movie theater, also called the Saint. (Saints live here, people!)
Good intentions go a long way with the family-friendly romance, about a country music star who leaves his fiance at the altar, then comes back into her life. It’s not always a bad movie. But it’s a poorly made film, with rough edits, distracting staging and plot contrivances that can be predicted to the moment.
Perhaps worst of all, there’s an almost startling lack of chemistry between the leads, as if they performed their scenes a year apart from each other on different continents, then quickly spliced the film together. (This is how we thought “All the Money in the World” would look after Christopher Plummer abruptly replaced Kevin Spacey.) “Forever My Girl” tells you they’re perfect for each other. But their actions are like an awkward first date, lasting for eight slow years.
None of this is the fault of actor Alex Roe, who plays Liam Page, a young singer who feels empty after getting everything he dreamed about. Every time he’s on screen, you can see the better, more nuanced “Crazy Heart”-style movie that’s just out of reach.
Liam stumbles home for a funeral, still in his sweaty T-shirt from his last one-night stand, and finds his former love Josie (Jessica Rothe) has a child who is just a little younger than his departure date from Saint. He must rebuild relationships with this new family, his father the town preacher, his friends, some guy who his mother played guitar with who isn’t really explained …
That’s a major issue with “Forever My Girl.” It all feels a little bit off, as if every third scene was cut out randomly, and every camera angle came down to a fourth choice. This is particularly noticeable in the sequences between Liam and Josie, and the unconvincing “fame” scenes, where the same six groupies appear to be chasing Liam through the street.
Much stronger are the moments between Roe and his preacher father, played by stage actor John Benjamin Hickey, as they try to rebuild a relationship torn apart by fame. When they’re together, it’s easy to imagine the material as a pretty good two-person off Broadway stage production.
When Roe and Hickey are off screen, the seams become more visible. Much of “Forever My Girl” seems to be shot in the type of gauzy filter preferred by aging talk show hosts. Youthful actors push precociousness to distracting levels. Too many of the conflicts seem to be misunderstandings, easily solved in an age of cellular phone communication.
The final chapter, which explains a couple of mysteries teased throughout the film — then forces in a conflict so pointless it hurts the brain — is mostly frustrating. It’s hard to imagine anyone who didn’t take notes in the theater being able to remember this film a few months down the line.
One piece of saintly praise for the movie: The filmmakers deserve credit for their commitment to a PG rating, a mark that in the 2010s seems reserved for animated films, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” sequels and the occasional Mr. Bean production that finds its way to the states.
Too many films that should be rated PG — the new “Jumanji” movie is an example — seem to throw in an F-bomb or some penis jokes just to get the more daring-sounding PG-13 rating. Not “Forever My Girl.” No matter how conservative your household or extended family, it’s almost certainly safe for everyone to watch this mediocre film together.