Bethany Ashton Wolf’s Forever My Girl opens with a young musician, Liam Page (Alex Roe), leaving his fiancée, Josie (Jessica Rothe), at the altar to pursue fame and fortune in the wake of his first single starting to get regular radio play. Cut to eight years later and Liam is the biggest name in country music, performing to packed houses, having sex with groupies, and being catered to by an eager yet underappreciated staff. But he still carries a piece of his past with him: a beaten-up old flip phone that contains an eight-year-old voicemail from Josie. It’s a message that he professes to have listened to every day since it was left but to which he never bothered to respond.
Although Liam hasn’t set foot in his hometown or talked to a single friend or family member in nearly a decade, Forever My Girl would have its audience believe that he not only regrets his rash decision to up and leave, but also broods over it between gigs and hooking up with random fans. The film abounds in such confounding behavior, which often stems less from anything resembling psychological realism than from the story’s constant need to hit predestined beats leading up to a predictably wholesome finale.
The arrogant, self-obsessed Liam becomes caring and selfless from the moment he’s back in his old stomping grounds, a transformation that’s explained away by his discovery that Josie had his daughter, Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson), who he didn’t know about because he never returned Josie’s phone call all those years ago. Still, if Liam’s metamorphosis is abrupt, it’s also somewhat reasonable given how rooted it is in paternal instinct.
Forever My Girl makes one wonder if Bethany Ashton Wolf actually thinks this is what true love is like.
But Josie’s drastic emotional leap from punching Liam when she first saw him in town to fawning over him after he has two play dates with the precocious Billy defies even the film’s already shaky internal logic. When Josie agreed to let Liam spend time with their daughter, she wisely warned him that nothing romantic would ever happen between them again. Yet, with minimal effort on Liam’s part, Josie is almost immediately swept off her feet, going from outright rejecting Liam one day to asking him for the full “Liam Page experience” the next. And so he whisks her away on a helicopter to a red-carpet event.
Were this the only leap of faith that Josie executes, she could be forgiven for simply wanting to make amends with the father of her child and take a long shot on an old flame. But when Liam messes up again, leaving both Josie and Billy behind without notice, only to return to plead his case once more, her forgiveness reveals deeply troubling dependency issues that lead her to not hold Liam accountable for his own actions simply because he’s “the one.”
That Forever My Girl sees this reconciliation as a sign of Josie’s strong faith in people rather than a potentially harmful character flaw goes to show just how naïve the film’s notions of love and fate really are. In the end, the film is less reminiscent of a country song than of Radiohead’s “True Love Waits”: “I’ll drown my beliefs/To have your babies…Just don’t leave/Don’t leave.” And you have to wonder if Ashton Wolf actually thinks this is what true love is like.