Attention men! You might want to find something to keep your wife or girlfriend busy this weekend if she’s threatening to see “Unforgettable.” The film plays like a warning shot to every guy who has ever given his Significant Other reason to consider what she might do to you if you left her, particularly for another woman. It’s like a rallying cry for preventative relationship maintenance. Consider yourselves warned.
“Unforgettable” is the Lifetime Movie equivalent of those great 90s sex thrillers like “Single White Female,” with the pseudo-European flavor ditched for network slickness and a tendency to hit you over the head with the biggest, most obvious hammers possible. Really, though, who goes to see a film like this expecting arthouse faire? “Unforgettable” is dumb, and at times, kind of fun because of how dumb it is. There’s nothing remotely ostentatious about it: it’s the sort of film in which characters don’t behave like actual human beings, because the moment they make a logical decision, the story ends. Everything is predicated on coincidence and fantasy. No one seems to have jobs; their careers are nebulous, allowing characters to “work from home” (without ever actually doing anything), which allows the soap opera dramatics to unfold in the lives of people sitting around all day in expensive homes, thumb-swiping their days away on social media, or jogging endlessly through the Hollywood hills.
Upscale internet writer/designer/something Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) becomes engaged to Dudebro entrepreneur David Connover (Geoff Stults). His pre-teen daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) is part of the marriage package. Lurking in the foreground is David’s now-ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl), who is bound and determined to get her family back… at any cost. After hacking Julia’s phone, Tessa instigates a complex web of lies and deceit that is only complex because no one in the film bothers to react like an actual person would.
“Unforgettable” is entertaining, even if you’re automatically smarter than all the characters put together. For all this, there’s actually something interesting at play: black girl plus white guy equals homewrecker. It’s not even like “Unforgettable” is coy about it. Dark-skinned Rosario Dawson wears black more often than not; Heigl is clothed in ivory hues that seem exposed about three F-stops higher than anything else in the film. Even her hair is so blonde that it hurts to look at it. You have to hand it to director Denise Di Novi for hewing to that hoary old adage that reminds filmmakers to “show, don’t tell.” There’s an eyebrow-raising level of subtext hiding in plain sight throughout the film, and yet it’s never once explored, and clearly a result of casting rather than scripting.
Yet you can’t fault the film for playing it safe in the white-on-black dynamic. “Unforgettable” doesn’t exist to explore race relations so much as cash in on them. Heigl gets the welcome opportunity to take advantage of the fact that no one seems to like her, whether in real life or in the fictional universes she inhabits; she spends the film henpecking her new rival with inane White Person Questions just to show how truly insufferable (and potentially unhinged) she really is. DON’T YOU HAVE ORGANIC FOOD? HOW CAN YOU NOT BE ON FACEBOOK? She squirts her perfume on her daughter’s wrist and endlessly brushes the kid’s hair like she’s a porcelain doll, or a very tall lap dog. NOW YOU’LL BE PERFECT JUST LIKE ME, she intones, and you can almost see her breath. She steals Julia’s engagement ring, punishes her child in the form of terrible haircuts, and throws herself down the stairs to elicit sympathy from her ex-husband (SHE PUSHED ME!). The character is so campy that when the film makes a few charitable attempts to humanize her, the most we can think is, “Look, she’s a sympathetic sociopath!”
While the crazy might be fun, you sort of have to roll your eyes every time the source of conflict walks onscreen. Like Dawson and Heigl’s opposing skin and clothing color, Stults is presented as a literal representation of subtext, his personality traits rendered through clothes and haircut so the audience can’t ever once be confused as to whether he is or isn’t a stupid man-child (he is, by the way). Stults plays David as a meathead who hand waves away the sinister activities of his ex as his new fiancée’s imagination, speaking all the while in a slow drawl like Bill Paxton on valium. The character barely registers, and isn’t helped by the fact that he only pops in occasionally to remind the audience why the two women are at odds; the rest of the time he’s apparently managing his microbrewery with his precisely manicured nine-o’clock shadow. The fact that he isn’t wearing flip flops is kind of shocking.
Dawson walks away as both the film’s MVP and greatest missed opportunity. While her character’s lifestyle might be as unbelievable as the onscreen implication that the actress would ever smoke Marlboro Reds, she drops a welcome anchor in the lunatic storms. Yet the film does her a major disservice by showing us every step of Heigl’s nefarious scheming in real-time. Instead of allowing Dawson to become an audience surrogate, so that all of the shocks and surprises her character experiences are shocks and surprises to us as well, we’re unfortunately two steps ahead of her at all times. We don’t feel her fear; we just want her to hurry up and figure everything out that we already know. It’s the literal antithesis of drama.
While “Unforgettable” certainly doesn’t deserve it’s title (a title that likewise makes no sense in relation to the plot), it’s stupid and entertaining. It’s like McDonalds. Good while you’re enjoying it, and sort of embarrassing when you reflect on it later. The film is dialed up to a consistent eleven, and campy in a way that’s rare for Hollywood these days. It’s probably about fifteen minutes too long, but that just gives the guys a few extra minutes to figure out how to spend the rest of the evening convincing their dates that, no, honey, I would never leave you, especially not for a woman of another race – so put down the knife, okay?
Directed by Denise Di Novi
Written by David Leslie Johnson and Christina Hodson
Rated R for sexual content, violence, some language, and brief partial nudity