I saw two films this weekend, one a hit and one a miss, check out which one to see and which one to avoid.
FOREVER MY GIRL – MISS
Naturally, I was drawn to the recent release Forever My Girl, which from the trailers looked to have a similar plot to one of my favorite 90s films, Pure Country. Both films are about famous country singers who face a crisis of confidence and abandon their concert tour to rediscover their roots. Unfortunately, Forever isn’t particularly groundbreaking in any way. Like Pure Country it is also a fish out of water story, as the main character, Liam (played by Brit Alex Roe), despite growing up in a small middle-class town and being a preacher’s son, seems incapable of functioning without someone there to guide him by the hand in the simplest of tasks, like ordering a coffeemaker off Amazon. And like Pure Country, the movie in many ways serves as an extended music video for the soundtrack they likely hoped to sell many copies of.
But to make the film a little more cutesy and to appeal to a younger audience, Forever throws in a twist; Liam finds out early in the film that he left behind a daughter when he ran out on the small town. In a less impressive departure from its 90s forebear, the lead, Alex Roe, can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag. To his credit, he actually has a very good singing voice, and apparently sang all his own songs. But it’s a good thing the script didn’t give him many lines to work with, because his sleepy-eyed whisper mumble was cringe-inducing to watch. I get that Liam was supposed to be a troubled young man, but I don’t think pouty, glassy-eyed stares and crying really get him much credit just because they appear dramatic. Good actors know when to deploy dramatic acting strategically.
Liam’s daughter, played by Abby Ryder Fortson, succeeds at her main task: to appear precocious, amusing, and adorable. I think she actually outshines Roe by a wide margin. Jessica Rothe, who plays Josie, Liam’s love interest, turns in an admirable performance in a terribly written role. It’s a little disappointing to see how easily and quickly she forgives Liam for any number of unforgivable acts, committed both in his foolish youth and dysfunctional present, but that’s because she wasn’t really meant to be a character, only a set piece love interest for Liam. I get the power of childhood love, and of never being able to let someone go, but it’s a pretty thankless role.
All in all, if you like country music, you might enjoy this, but I think you could get the same enjoyment from just listening to the soundtrack. Otherwise, you’re signing up for what is essentially a high budget Hallmark movie with an above average soundtrack.
PROUD MARY – HIT
I’ve been a big fan of Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Hidden Figures) for a couple years now. Her natural charisma, solid acting ability and off-screen ferocity make her an easy icon and positive role model at a time when Hollywood seems to be toppling its brightest stars off pedestals left and right. So when I heard about Proud Mary, I didn’t even need to hear the plot, I just knew I wanted to see a movie anchored by Henson. After seeing it, I can confirm that Henson does indeed have the chops to play solo lead in her own movie, and yes, her own action movie, but I think the film suffers from leaning too much on her magnetism to draw and keep people in their theater seats.
The basic plot of Proud Mary is simple: Mary is a mob hitwoman who kills a bookie and then finds out the man has a young son, which violates Mary’s personal code of ethics against hurting (directly or indirectly) kids. She follows the boy for some time after, rescues him when he gets caught up in a rival gang, and unintentionally starts a gang war. She decides she wants out of the organized crime family that has dominated her life since her youth, to take the young boy and live out a simpler life, and to give him a better life than she had. Of course, that doesn’t work, so she has to kill everyone. I mean it. She kills EVERYONE.
And that last part is what takes up most of the film. Mary spends much of the film killing just about anyone and everyone who gets in the way of her leaving to raise the boy in peace. It’s pretty thin on plot, and it’s thin on the connective tissue that tends to gently move a film from point to point, which gives the film a rushed, frenetic, disjointed feel. This is probably why critics have largely panned the film, and fair enough, it’s not exactly a stunning work set for the annals of film history. It is, however, a bunch of fun. I’ll spare a sentence to scold the film for its glorification of violence, a sin committed by just about every action film made in the last several decades, but I at least appreciate that the film makes it clear that this isn’t wanton violence, it’s not capricious or desired. It pains Mary to do what she does, and her job isn’t due to her indifferent feeling toward death, but rather the deeply felt loyalty and debt she feels toward the crime family that took her in, protected and raised her. Her violent killing spree is a sort of defensive offense, necessitated by the mob’s possessiveness that refuses to allow her a justified, well-earned retirement.
I also need to add a brief kudos to the fight choreography. Overly choreographed fight scenes are one of my biggest pet peeves in modern films. Most modern action sequences are so well-choreographed that it looks more like a ballet than a fight, and it’s hard to imagine the fight actually working if a single step was missed. Real fights aren’t like that. The Jason Bourne series, and many of the fights in Netflix’s Daredevil always stood out to me as the most realistic, because they show the split-second nature of a fight where you don’t know where the next punch will fall, and how exhausting a fight will be. Proud Mary falls more into this brand of fight scenes. While she spends most of the film mowing people down with firearms, when she does fight, it’s less Black Widow and more Bourne, which I found much more believable.
I liked the film and found it a very entertaining 90 minute escape on a cold Sunday afternoon. If you like Henson, Boondock Saints, and a long well-choreographed fight scene where the hero mows down all the bad guys to an awesome soundtrack, you’ll enjoy this movie. Every once in awhile we have to set down the Academy Awards nomination ballot and just enjoy a fun, rollicking action movie, and Proud Mary fits the bill.