Forever My Girl, released this week on DVD, is a film adaptation of the best-selling novel. Forever My Girl is a sweet, second-chance romance that, despite some genre-typical set-ups and pay-offs, and a too-neat ending, has an endearing warmth and depth.
For my commentary on the Salt + Light Radio Hour (and to find out if Deacon Pedro watches romantic comedies-starting April 28), listen in here.
The storyline starts with an all-too-obvious heartbreak that totally fits the genre: on the day of their wedding, up-and-coming local Southern singer Liam Page abandons his bride Josie to pursue a career in country music. Eight years later, Liam is a famous country music star who, when he hears about the death of his friend, returns to his long-neglected past in his hometown in Louisiana for the funeral. Although he hovers around the edges of the service and burial, not really reconnecting, he ends up extending his visit, perhaps seeking to recover what he lost.
The story continues with obvious ploys which, while predictable for the genre, seem to work for this film:
- On Liam’s return, Josie knocks him over with a punch
- Josie is a single mom with a daughter, Billy
- At first, Billy is a very cute, lovable brat, who keeps Liam at a distance, but she gradually lets down her walls
- Josie’s brother Jake taunts Liam with his abandonment and accuses him of being unfit for Josie and Billy
- Liam’s father provides an explanation of why Liam ran away
Anyone who has watched a few rom-coms has seen all of these before—many of them together in similar films. But a couple earnest, understated choices of the filmmakers make all the difference:
- When Liam decides to stay in his hometown, he doesn’t try to explain or defend himself to Josie, to Josie’s brother Jake, or to his father (who is also a pastor and is realistically struggling to deal with his disappointment in his son).
- The film uses one telling detail to show not only that Liam has been unable to forget Josie, but that he is desperate for a connection with her
- Despite Liam’s inner anguish, he has enough self-respect, courage, and respect for the people he left behind to seek reconciliation by simply being present, with no expectations.
- Josie’s feisty response to Liam’s reappearance—he never contacted her after abandoning her at the church—rings true and reveals a maturity in her character. It takes time before she decides to see him or spend time with him.
- While Liam’s father initially struggles with Liam’s return, he both encourages Liam and lets Liam find his own way.
- Another nice touch in the film is how Liam’s isolation and brokenness is portrayed visually: he is constantly on the outside of the community/family, looking in.
- Alex Roe’s understated performance as Liam really gives depth to this film. Rather than coming back with a “Here I am!” attitude, he simply accepts the criticism, blame, and doubts he receives. He doesn’t expect anything from the people he hurt and left behind. But he constantly tries to show—with his actions—what his intentions and desires are. His admirable quiet restraint, even humility, in several situations that are emotionally difficult for everyone is quite striking.
A Window to the Soul: into the Virtues of Humility, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Starting Over, Christian Community, Family
Forever My Girl is not an overtly Christian movie (and there are definitely non-Christian ideas and behavior in the film about living together, language, modesty, etc.). Rather, it is a mainstream genre film that contrasts a fame-driven, self-centered lifestyle with an other-centered, Christian lifestyle. Forever My Girl offers a refreshing view of a Christian community that is neither perfect nor hypocritical: real disciples of Christ who struggle to live the healing love of forgiveness Jesus calls us to. In today’s revenge-hungry, self-entitled culture, forgiveness can be unimaginable. But this film—without preaching—shows the power and beauty of these most important Christian virtues: forgiveness and true reconciliation.
For those who love romantic comedies, Forever My Girl is not to be missed. Forever My Girl is also a good choice for a teen or YA “Meeting Jesus at the Movies Night.” The film is rated PG, appropriate for families with older tweens and up (depending on the maturity of the child).