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Country Goes to the Movies, part XII: Forever Love

By Robert Loy, December 1999

The title of this made-for-TV weeper is the answer to the question "Honey, how long is it going to take Reba McEntire to become a believable actress?"

No, that's not fair. Reba actually does a convincing job of portraying a catatonic woman, stiff, unfeeling and dead to the world - unfortunately that's after her character comes out of her coma.

Reba stars as Lizzie Brooks, a young wife and mother who has a stroke and is rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, it's one of those TV strokes where your hair always stays perfectly in place and your makeup never gets smudged.

While the handsome doctors work on her, we get gauzy flashbacks - to the day she met her husband Alex (played by Tim (Otter on "Animal House") Matheson). She challenges him to a basketball game. He invites her to a toga party. To the day they married outdoors on a hilltop, where it rained only on the bride and groom. (If they'd known anything about symbolism they'd have known they were in for some tough times.) To the day Reba told her best friend Gail (Bess Armstrong) of her pregnancy; they were in the garden exchanging classic lines like "I'm going to love this plant into life." To the birth of the daughter and so on right up to the stroke.

The doctors can't detect any sign of consciousness and, not having seen Reba's somnambulant performances in "Tremors" and "Is There Life Out There?", diagnose her as comatose. They want to put her in a nursing home, but devoted Otter takes her home, where he cares for her, cuts her hair ("I know you hate it when your forehead shows," but can't do anything about those ears sticking out, though.) and tries every trick in the book to jerk tears from the audience, i.e. letting their little daughter bring mom a teddy bear to sleep with.

And sleep she does, for 20 years. One day - predictably right after Otter told her to "sleep well" - she wakes up. Husband is happy but refuses to kiss her - and not just because she has the world's worst case of morning breath.

Reba's biggest emotional scene comes when she sees her law-student daughter Emma for the first time in 20 years. So much has changed - 20 years ago it was Emma wearing diapers, now it's Mom. Reba cries as she realizes she missed her daughter's growing up and her big chance to win an Emmy.

Reba's only comment about her 20-year nap is the profound(ly stupid) line "In my heart I felt like I was part of everything. Now I know I am."

It takes her five grueling, pain-wracked minutes or so to relearn how to walk and a lot longer than that to figure out that her husband and her best buddy Gail are having an affair. When she does get mobile, she marvels at cell phones, coffee bean grinders and the Home Shopping Network. She longs for liposuction and a chance to wear her brand-new (well never-worn) hip-hugger miniskirt outfit that no one considering liposuction should ever wear.

Reba is worried because her daughter has announced her engagement to fellow law student Chuck, but as Reba puts it, "She's so detached. There's no joy in her face." But that may just be because she inherited her mother's acting ability.

Not that there's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on in Reba's relationship, either. Otter will not make love with his wife. He says it's cuz she's so fragile. But it's more likely due to the anti-aphrodisiacal effects of Reba's recitation of cutesy-pukey lines like "I love you the mostest."

They take a trip to a romantic cabin in the woods to get a spark going. There they reminisce about their first fight. Reba wouldn't speak to him and Otter - taking a cue from John Cusack in "Say Anything" - stands outside her place with a boombox playing their favorite song over and over. Said song being of course the late '70's smash "Forever Love." (What, you don't remember it?) He even sings a bit of it to Reba as they dance. No, I'm not kidding, I wish I were.

Not many people make it past this point in the film without falling into a coma of their own, but the brave insomniac soon discover that it's not just in the bedroom that Reba's got problems. Emma is going to Gail for advice about the wedding. Reba has a tantrum. Gail accuses her of being dramatic. Reba rightfully denies this charge.

Actually it doesn't look like this wedding is going to take place anyway. FiancÚ Chuck is a lawyer and dull - if that's not redundant. Emma's spending more and more time with old flame David who does all kinds of fun stuff like breaking and entering an amusement park and riding the merry-go-round. He also has a challenging and rewarding career as a busboy.

Reba finally gets enough and runs away from home. The name of this movie is "Forever Love" not "On The Road" or "Forever Estranged," so naturally Otter chases her down.

Naturally he falls in love with her all over again. Naturally they make love by a crackling fire, with a Reba McEntire CD playing in the background. Naturally Gail bravely, tearfully steps aside. ("You've got your miracle back," she tells Otter, "don't let it slip away" like you did your post "Animal House" acting career.)

Reba's relationship with Emma improves as well. Although after listening to Reba rant about marriage and motherhood ("When a child grows up without a mother there to catch her when she falls, she never feels safe.") decides the heck with it and calls off the wedding.

Problem is they've already paid for the food and the reception and everything. They don't want to let it go to waste, so they throw a big party where Otter and Reba marry each other all over again. Reba has to throw another "I love you the mostest" in her vows, and Otter, obviously blitzed on bubbly, does not back out. And wouldn't you know there's a cloudburst just like there was at the first wedding. So they go outside and dance in it, cuz after 20 years these two people together still don't have enough sense to come in out of the rain.