2017 | rated R | starring Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Whitney Cummings, Cheryl Ladd | directed by Denise Di Novi | 1hr 40mins |
Studio Pitch: Hey Katherine Heigl, you don’t like being cast as a nag in Judd Apatow movies, deal with this!
We got the generically and ironically titled Unforgettable this year because movie studios have genre quotas and have to pump out a handful of trashy Lifetime movie-style domestic thrillers every year. They’re dirt cheap to make, have a built in audience and usually turn a profit. All things considering (one of them being that Jennifer Lopez banged out the hilarious The Boy Next Door a few years ago and set a new low for the sleazy thriller) Unforgettable isn’t really that bad. It never really get so outrageous it’s funny, moves pretty briskly and with a handful of twists that take the nonsense to a more satirically absurd level, it could have really been fun.
One of the reasons I sat down ready to mock it and ended up shutting up and watching is Rosario Dawson, who lends a real earnestness and a warmth that is hard not to root for to a role that in other movies is treated as a bumbling victim. The film follows her Julia Banks leaving a mystery tech job with best friend Whitney Cummings (best friends are always on the chopping block in psycho thrillers) to “work remotely” on “writing” we never see her do and make a life with her new fiancé David (Geoff Stults). Julia is forced to share custody of David’s daughter with his ex, the frigid no-nonsense Tessa (Katherine Heigl) who, as it turns out, is a full blown lunatic who will stop at nothing to win, con or murder her way back to David.
Heigl is another reason the movie is so watchable. If you pulled one of her clips out of context, it would look over-the-top and laughably bad, but in context this far-from-subtle, wide-eyed villainous performance pitched to the rafters is exactly what this movie needs. Just about every turn of the plot, Tessa’s plot to eliminate Julia, is completely, entirely predictable, but Heigl and the movie play Tessa just a few notches above the hysterical helicopter PTA or baseball mom you know you’ve met. That along with the true-to-life set-up of the ex and the new wife hating each other for really no reason, David as the usual clueless guy who just wants peace and thinks everything is ok despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and Tessa’s equally monstrous mother (Cheryl Ladd) helping to steer their daughter to a third generation of lunatics – all of this spins out in knowing little trope twists that seem like aborted attempts to bring something different to this type of movie.
I would have loved to see the movie play those out. I would have loved to see Heigl arguing to keep her house and her life while in the middle of a big fight that destroys that house. I would have loved to see a campier Ladd and her blonde bad seed granddaughter. More gore, more sex, more power plays over whose “weekend” it is to pick up the girl or who brings snacks to little league games. Really play it to the hilt. I feel like Dawson would be a worthy hero for anything they threw at her. Eventually, the film delivers on the cat fight it’s set up but when Dawson says she isn’t fighting over her man it lends more weight to the character. It’s something that surely was dropped in to please social media feminists, but it’s still refreshing to hear in this kind of movie.
It’s all put together competently,directed by producer Denise Di Novi, who keeps it better than a guilty pleasure laughing stock and I would venture to guess stealthily snuck some of that personality into it. But that almost works against the film, it’s not good enough to be genuinely thrilling or surprising and it’s too good, to well made, to achieve so-bad-it’s-funny campy cult status like The Boy Next Door. Everyone gets out with their dignity intact. Although I still want to know what’s up with the scene where Dawson’s luggage falls off the roof of her car and she never notices; or the ending which hilariously and appropriately sets up a sequel. Unforgettable 2: Never Forgotten.
As lame as so many of these psycho stalker thrillers are, I think we need more, not less, of them. If more of these got pumped out then more people would be willing to take a crack their very rigid formula. There would be more risks and more chances that one would slip under the radar and say something fresh. Unforgettable has just enough fleeting sparks of life to make me wonder if there isn’t hope for this kind of pulp yet.