I cannot in honesty say that Forever My Girl is a bad movie that's only one tweak in the script away from being good. The filmmaking itself is too defective for that. Especially the camerawork, which is full of irritating little shimmies that oughtn't be there; most egregiously, during a major emotional beat near the climax, right in the middle a hugely important close-up, cinematographer Duane Manwiller (or, at any rate, his camera operator) re-frames the shot with a noticeable jerk, and then re-frames again to compenste for having jerked too far, and that happens, I get that, but when that happens, you scrap the fucking shot, and if this is what editor Priscilla Nedd-Friendly thought was the most acceptable take, I shudder to imagine what she didn't use.

Still, just one tweak would at least make Forever My Girl substantially better. If, indeed, "turn the protagonist into the villain" is really small enough to count as a "tweak", though I contend that it would take very little effort to get there, especially because it's already seeded into several scenes early in the film. Such as the very first scene, which takes place on the day that young Josie (Jessica Rothe) is celebrating her stately, elaborate, traditional Southern wedding in the close-knit small town of Saint Augustine, Louisiana. Her unseen fiancé, Liam Page, is an aspiring country star who has just scored his first radio hit, which adds to the overall celebratory vibe, and of course it's all headed for disaster, which strikes when Liam's best friend Mason (Terayle Hill) shows up to break the news that Liam has decided to flee.

Eight years later, Liam (Alex Roe) is a proper superstar, sending entire stadiums full of worshipful female fans into waves of orgasmic joy from every anodyne strum of his generic country rock. But he is not happy, and his songs all reveal the pain of a man who cannot bury his sorrowful dick in enough groupies to make up for The One That Got Away (Because You Fucking Dumped Her, Dipshit). One morning in New Orleans, after waking up with a giddy young woman who almost breaks his ancient flip phone, and after racing through the streets barefoot to get it fixed (an event that qualifies as "out-of-control superstar debauchery" in this movie's transfixingly straitlaced moral universe), Liam discovers that Mason, now a beloved local politician in Saint Augustine, has died in a car crash at only 27 years old. Traveling home to attend the funeral, Liam discovers that absolutely every last soul in town hates him, but nobody hates him more than his dad, Pastor Brian (John Benjamin Hickey), and of course Josie, raising a seven-year-old daughter, Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson) that she was unaware of on the fateful wedding day.

Writer-director Bethany Ashton Wolf, following the romantic novel by Heidi McLaughlin that is the film's source, spins this all into a melodrama about how Liam and Josie still love each other, and how the discovery of a long-lost daughter instantaneously makes him wish to be a better man, husband, and father. This is unfortunate, because the movie never manages to portray Liam as anything other than a shit. Maybe if the chemistry between Roe and Rothe was so smoldering and fiery that it seemed impossible for them to refrain from pawing at each other constantly, that would be enough to sell the romantic plotline, but two things get in the way. One is that Forever My Girl is rated PG, and it is extremely proud of this, and the idea of these two gorgeous young people wishing to be naked in one another's company seems as foreign as the notion that they might want to listen to rap music. The other is that Roe is the most milquetoast actor I can imagine, and I'm no sure that he could drum up chemistry with anybody.

So back we go to the big initial problem: this is a passionless romance about a couple that it's almost impossible to root for, and the main arc of the plot is the redemption and maturation of a man who doesn't do anything to earn them. I'm not sure that there's a single named character in the film who wouldn't be a better protagonist than Liam, and some of them are dead for most of the movie. Certainly, it would be more interesting to stay aligned with Josie, whom the movie primes us to expect to be the lead, and who has a potentially much more fruitful interior conflict, lusting after the man she hates and hoping that a man she distrusts above all others might be a reliable, worthy father to her daughter. And Rothe, whose performance in Happy Death Day won her an instant cult fandom that I am happy to be a part of, manages to be at least interesting in her flat little nothing of a role; she doesn't make the wholly reactive Josie any less reactive, though she at least makes the reactions lively and snarky.

Following an uninteresting man on his uninteresting journey is the fatal flaw from which Forever My Girl cannot recover, and the rest of the problems are just kicking the corpse. Hard. In the ribs. Aside from the aforementioned slipshod filmmaking, and the banal country songs that serve as the backbone of Liam's internationally red-hot career, there's also the matter of the dumb dialogue, full of the worst kind of "let me tell you what we both already know" exposition, often seasoned by "let me tell you what we both already know, and the audience has already learned".

And maybe worst of all is the writing attached to Billy, a dreadful exemplar of the Precocious Movie Child. The words she speaks are dripping with unearned cynicism and sarcasm, and Wolf manages Fortson's performance into a horribly simulacrum of child behavior: it is obvious that the young actor does not understand why she's pulling these particular faces, but dammit if she won't go ahead and do what she's asked. For a film whose narrative universe circles around Billy being so sweet and appealing that she instantly transforms Liam's entire personality, it's particularly destructive that she's so intensely irritating. Not that it would salvage the film if she wasn't - no one thing could salvage Forever My Girl - but it hardly seems like this particular insult needed to be added to injury.