Unforgettable (2017) – Film Review
Director: Denise di Novi
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults
by Gregory Fishwick
The beautiful, sculptured heroine languorously removes her robe, ready to submerge herself in a steaming bath of bubbles while a shadowy presence in the background observes. Upon hearing a noise the heroine turns with a start and covers herself. The glacial psycho-ex wife cyber-stalks her prey in a darkened room, the only light emanating from the computer screen. Later, dressed in a flowing, white night gown, roaring log fire in the background, she menaces the beleaguered heroine with a kitchen knife, occasionally catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror and uttering a psychoanalytically-laced non sequitur…
“Bag of tricks”
These are a smattering of not unfamiliar images from Unforgettable, powerhouse producer Denise di Novi’s directorial debut, a film that seems to have come along some 25-30 years too late. Rosario Dawson is Julia Banks, a high-flying career girl who leaves her job, friends and independent lifestyle to relocate to a small Californian town to marry the man of her dreams and set up home with him and his 10-year-old daughter.
This cosy set up seems light years away from a recent abusive relationship that has left her both physically and emotionally scarred and from which, we gather, she was lucky to have escaped with her life. What’s more, it becomes clear her intent to succeed in her new found role as wife and surrogate mother is an attempt to break a cycle, her own childhood apparently being less than idyllic.
A lot is riding on this dream for her – and the last thing she needs is her hubby-to-be’s ex and mother of his child, Tessa, to turn it into a nightmare for her. But a nightmare is indeed what it becomes when Tessa (Katherine Heigl) unleashes her bag of tricks in order to scupper Julia’s happiness and reclaim her husband and daughter.
“Heigl is all frozen fire”
And so we wade, waist deep, into a pool of gloss, the ghosts of Fatal Attraction, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female and other such monstrous feminine driven, domestic semi-slashers nipping at our toes. However, Di Novi at the helm, co-producing along with Alison Greenspan and from a script by Christina Hodson, this is “female-driven” and is careful to take little side-steps to avoid any liberal pot shots of male-minded, conservative regression, as some of its earlier, genre counterparts faced.
The ever-likeable Dawson is real, relate-able and not just an idealised figure of homeliness. Yet, most of the other modern era plot compensations feel less like genre contortions and more like convenient and artificial devices. Heigl’s machinations are not merely driven by being spurned by a man, rather she is, somewhat advantageously, mentally ill. Indeed, it almost seems like the pressures of maintaining the sheer perfection of her lifestyle; both aesthetically and socially, are one of the key factors of her unbalanced nature.
Plot wise, everything is constructed and compartmentalised carefully and efficiently. Di Novi’s been producing a long time, she knows ‘how to make a movie’. Yet there’s something naïve about her choices. She directs like a professional spectator who’s finally decided to join in the game, observing what others around her have done (the past tense key here) and now putting it into practice, herself. And yet despite this, the film has a distinct lack of self-awareness. It’s own dated, derivative nature seems entirely lost on it. How anyone could direct the “dual sex scene”, played against a screaming R&B song (a scene that even Adrian Lyne would have thought twice about) and keep a straight face is incredible. Nor does she have the wherewithal to play it for high camp stakes and create a glorious piece of trash. It merely floats like a plastic doll on an oil slick.
“A nice little diversion”
Let’s not dismiss it all outright. Credit must go to the two leads who nobly carry the piece. To counter Dawson’s nice urban charm, Heigl is all frozen fire and one of the film’s more intriguing aspects are the tasty morsels we get given regarding the baser aspects of her id. Though unlikely to permanently set her on the path away from the arena of rom-coms, she deliciously savours the chance. And while not Persona, it even lightly brushes with the idea of the women’s duality of nature (their respective attempts to quit smoking resulting in a particularly odd yet striking image.)
Like Truffaut, personally I have a liking for these kind of hot-house melodramas. With a bit more of a knowing approach, this could have been a sparkling gem of a guilty pleasure. Yet as it is, it’s more of an occasionally sweet and spicy TV movie got lucky, destined for repeated viewings on the Sony Movie Channel (even a shiny Cheryl Ladd pops up as an overbearing mother). In the early hours of the morning on your TV screen, Unforgettable may well be a nice little diversion; just don’t expect anything like its title suggests.