"FOREVER MY GIRL" — 2 stars — Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, John Benjamin Hickey; PG (thematic elements including drinking and for language); in general release
There are enough things to like about "Forever My Girl" to make you disappointed that the final product comes out so bland.
Based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin, Bethany Ashton Wolf's film is a kind of Nicholas Sparks-style romance about a country music star who returns to his Louisiana hometown eight years after leaving his fiancée at the altar.
Liam Page (Alex Roe) commands the hearts of thousands of country fans, but almost a decade into his still-young career, a variety of the usual abuses have left him a mess. So when he learns that an old high school friend has been killed in a car accident, he ditches his tour to sneak back to his hometown of St. Augustine to attend the funeral.
His welcome is not warm. Liam may be swamped with attention in the outside world, but everyone in St. Augustine — including his preacher father Brian (John Benjamin Hickey) — is still bitter for the way he left them all behind right as his career was taking off.
The most bitter figure of all is Josie (Jessica Rothe), Liam's abandoned fiancée who just happens to have a now-7-year-old daughter named Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson). Josie has put together a decent life for herself, taking over a local floral shop and living with her brother Jake (Tyler Riggs) in their parents' old home.
The path forward is pretty obvious: Once Liam learns he has a daughter, he knuckles down to try and mend his ways, while straining to keep his long-suffering manager Sam (Peter Cambor) and his cutthroat publicist Doris (Gillian Vigman) at bay. Eventually he'll have to reconcile his two worlds, but let's be honest, in a movie like this, do we really expect to be surprised by the outcome?
The pieces are in place for a perfectly harmless light romance. Rothe was great in last year's sneaky-good horror comedy "Happy Death Day," and Fortson is a sweetheart, even if her dialogue feels a little too contrived at times.
But the execution just kills "Forever My Girl." Wolf's film wants to be ponderous and thoughtful, but too often drags and just feels mopey. Its periodic efforts to inject cute rom-com style humor never really take root, and "Forever My Girl's" third act collapses into cliché.
On the plus side, "Forever My Girl" never quite tries to twist its audience around in a manipulative Sparks-style tear-jerking plot, but that almost makes it feel more disappointing. By letting us see the characters as they really are, it's obvious that Liam is still an immature, flaky man-child, and even in a film about forgiveness, Josie's star-eyed affection for her beau makes her come off like a doormat.
It's difficult to believe that if we were to fast-forward another eight years, Liam and Josie would be anything but miserable.
"Forever My Girl" is rated PG for thematic elements including drinking and for language; running time: 104 minutes.