Joyce Glasser reviews Unforgettable (April 21, 2017)
Denise Di Novi is an American producer specialising in romantic comedies, films with ‘Women’ and ‘Girls’ in the title and adaptations of the sappy, romantic books by Nicholas Sparks. Her credits also include a smattering of more interesting fare, such as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and the 1992 Batman Returns.
For her directorial debut at the age of 61, Di Novi has chosen a popular popcorn genre that will seem immediately familiar to anyone who has seen Single White Female. That was another psychological erotic thriller directed by a woman (Barbet Schroeder) in which a jealous, psychopathic female with untreated childhood traumas uses criminal subterfuge and murder to destroy the happiness of an engaged professional woman. It is the more original aspects of Unforgettable, however, that make the movie so very forgettable.
The film opens on the bruised and bewildered face of Julia (the talented Rosario Dawson) who is at a loss to explain to a police detective how she came to be found in her fiancé’s kitchen with her abusive ex-boyfriend dead on the floor and a stream of erotic email messages sent to him. Writers Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson then provide the detective with some expository dialogue so that we know that Julia had obtained a restraining order against Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianies) and had undergone treatment at a psychiatric hospital. ‘That was my choice,’ a frustrated Julia interjects defensively. Later in the film poor Julia has to again try to persuade to her fiancé that she is not mentally ill.
Cut to ‘six months earlier’ and San Francisco where Julia’s work colleagues are throwing her a leaving party. Julia will be driving down to Southern California to live with her fiancé, David Connover (Geoff Stults), an investment banker turned local brewery entrepreneur. Just why the on-line editor of any company has to quit her job to move a few hundred miles is not explained. But the reason Julia wants a clean break with San Francisco is explained. Julia wants to put Vargas behind her. No one will know her new address and Julia erases her footprint on social media.
But Julia is going from the frying pan into the fire and her pre-marital bliss is almost instantly disturbed by David’s ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl). Tessa somehow seems to share custody of their daughter Lily (Isabella Rice) although it was Tessa, a fruit case, who had an affair and it is David who is the responsible breadwinner. Tessa, with her expensive horse-hobby and tight fitting designer clothes, was dead set against David’s decision to leave Merrill Lynch for an uncertain future.
Though uptight and more interfering than most ex-wives, Tessa is initially reasonable and Julia tries to make their relationship cordial for Lily’s sake. But if Julia had voluntary psychiatric help, Tessa never did. We have only to see how she inflicts her mother’s (Cheryl Ladd) cruelty on Lily to see how the abusive mothering skills were passed down.
Just seeing David and Julia happy together enrages Tessa to the point of madness. When Tessa’s ploys to make Julia seem like an unfit step-mother fail, she borrows her rival’s phone. There she finds details of a restraining order and the identity of Julia’s former stalker, who pales in comparison to her new one.
Heigl (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) who we are accustomed to seeing on screen in romantic comedies (Knocked Up, 27 Dresses) is chilling here, a mentally ill narcissist who replaces Charlize Theron’s Cipher as the most evil villain of the month. But both she and Dawson do their best with a script that becomes increasingly preposterous, not to mention obvious. We can see everything coming long before the characters, who seem to be asking for trouble. Although Unforgettable boasts a female director, the women in the film (and even the little girl, Lily) are all victims with traumas dictating their reactions.
The only male character beside Vargas, David, is hardly the hero, however. The only adult character who is not in need of therapy, he is so weak and unsupportive that you have to wonder what Julia sees in him.
Although battered women and stalking are serious subjects, Di Novi cannot expect us to take a film seriously when she cuts between Julia and David making passionate love during a dinner party and Tessa climaxing while sending erotic emails to Michael Vargas.
By the end of Unforgettable, you are reminded less of Single White Female, than of the black comedy, Meet the Applegates, one of the first movies Di Novi produced. In that movie a family of large insects (the Brazilian Cocorada) take on a human form and move to suburbia, adopting the normality of a family depicted in Family Bazaar Magazine. Eventually though, nurture takes over nature and the son becomes a junkie, the daughter becomes a lesbian after being raped and the parents separate after the wife has an affair. In a scene in which Julia finds a photo of Tessa, David and Lily together you can’t help but imagine the return of the Applegates.
You can watch the film trailer here: