The small-town-Louisiana-set Forever My Girl kicks off with a Hallmark-perfect setup: In about 12 minutes, beloved local Josie Preston (Jessica Rothe) is set to marry her high-school sweetheart, Liam Page (Alex Roe), in the very church in which the husband-to-be's father, Brian (John Benjamin Hickey), presides as pastor. But the rosy circumstances deteriorate almost immediately, when the bridesmaids inform Josie that Liam -- who is said, by various chipper attendees, to have a song on the radio that could turn him into a "bona fide country star" -- will not be attending the wedding. Flash-forward eight years later, and the much-hyped Liam has, indeed, exploded into a bona fide -- and glaringly unhappy -- star, headlining major venues packed with adoring fans. However, news of a tragic death in his hometown sets the stage for the movie's earnest, treacly, overly honeyed assortment of themes: celebrity ennui; small-town solidarity; the everlasting power of first love; the redeeming force of homemade gumbo.
The shortcomings of Forever My Girl -- which was written and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf -- stem directly from that premise and its attendant confusions. Wolf wants to strike simple and familiar chords: the remorseful big shot comes home and rediscovers family, food, romance, family. But for them to ring true demands that viewers gloss over a lot of the backstory and its complications. Enough unanswered questions pile up that Wolf and Co. could have made a separate feature just dealing with the discards, starting with those missing eight years. When Josie's brother (Tyler Riggs) finds Liam in an empty bar and says, with seething disdain, "Had a feeling you'd be here," you'd think he just found the guy hovering over a dead body.