[Screen It]

(2018) (Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe) (PG)

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Drama: A famous country music star returns to his hometown and his former fiancée who he jilted on their wedding day eight years ago.
Liam Page (ALEX ROE) is one of the biggest stars in country music, thanks not only to his talent, but also the hard work of his manager, Sam (PETER CAMBOR), publicist Doris (GILLIAM VIGMAN), and many others. But he's not happy with his life and has been suffering from a creative block of recent. When he hears that one of his high school friends was recently killed by a drunk driver, he returns to his hometown of St. Augustine, Louisiana, a place he hasn't been in eight years since suddenly leaving there to ride his rocket to success and fame.

He left behind not only various friends, but also his father, Brian (JOHN BENJAMIN HICKEY), the local pastor, and Josie (JESSICA ROTHE), his high school sweetheart to whom he was supposed to get hitched. The fact that he abruptly left her at the altar on their wedding day didn't sit well with her or anyone in St. Augustine, and thus he isn't exactly welcomed with open arms upon his return, particularly by Josie and her protective brother, Jake (STEPHEN T. RIGGS).

Unbeknownst to Liam -- since he left town and has had no contact since departing -- Josie has a precocious 7-year-old daughter, Billy (ABBY RYDER FORTSON), who turns out to be his child. Upon learning that, he sets out to be part of her and Josie's lives, something that obviously leaves the young woman conflicted about how to proceed.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
They say that the road
Ain't no place to start a family
Right down the line
It's been you and me
And lovin' a music man
Ain't always what it's supposed to be
Oh, girl, you stand by me
I'm forever yours

And being apart
Ain't easy on this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy of rediscovering you
Oh, girl, you stand by me
I'm forever yours

The lyrics above are from the song "Faithfully" by the rock group Journey, but they probably could have been written by most any performer who's out on the road doing their thing for weeks, months and sometimes years at a time.

While it's not quite the same as being separated by military service, it can and still does take its toll on marriages and relationships. And when I first heard inklings about "Forever My Girl," I thought of the song above. And that this tale of a rocky romance between a country music star and the love of his life back home was going to follow the trajectory of guy makes it big, goes on the road, relationship becomes strained (and maybe ends), but the two ultimately manage to make it work.

Well, in writer/director Bethany Ashton Wolf's adaptation of Heidi McLaughlin's novel, the guy does hit success and the relationship ends, but it isn't the road that causes that. Instead, as we see in the prologue set eight years before the main story kicks in, the yet-to-be-seen star, Liam Page (Alex Roe), simply does a preemptive strike and jilts his bride-to-be, Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar on their wedding day.

We then see that in the present he's hit it big as a country music star -- with a hard-working manager (Peter Cambor) and publicist (Gilliam Vigman) doing their thing to keep him at the top -- but he isn't happy and he's hit a creative roadblock. Upon hearing news that a high school friend has died, he returns to his hometown of St. Augustine, Louisiana, a place he hasn't been in nearly a decade when he abruptly ejected himself from the lives of everyone there, including his own father (John Benjamin Hickey).

Since then, Josie has rebuilt her life, runs the local floral shop, and is a single mom to precocious 7-year-old Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson). Such kids run the risk of being annoying in movies (and in real life) but she turns out to be the bridge between the former lovers, what with being their child. And since Liam hasn't ever let Josie escape from his heart (he's kept his ancient and crippled cellphone long past its expiration date due to it holding Josie's last post-breakup message to him), he hopes to get back with his former flame.

What follows comes directly from that Journey song about two "strangers" learning to fall in love again. And messages about forgiveness, growing up, and fixing past mistakes. It's an okay offering in that regard, but I kept feeling like the plot was a bit emaciated, needed some additional meat on its storytelling bones, and required a greater reason for us to care if the couple gets back together again.

There's nothing new here and there's little doubt that once things seem hunky dory once again (which itself happens too easily and quickly), the guy is going to leave town, upset everyone, and then return once again. And if that comes as a spoiler to you, I'm guessing you've never seen a romantic comedy or many a romantic drama that follows that playbook call.

Beyond the barebones plot, my big issue is that the at-the-altar jilting seems contrived (in terms of what follows) and more of a plot construct than a real thing (despite later explanations about why he did that). And then I simply didn't buy into the young woman taking him back. Yes, I understand it's all about forgiveness and family, but there isn't enough present on the screen to make me believe it.

Simply put, something just felt off for most of the film and that prevented it from working for me. You might have a different reaction. "Forever My Girl" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 15, 2018 / Posted January 19, 2018

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