FILM REVIEW – UNFORGETTABLE. With Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Marissa D’Onofrio. Written by Christina Hodson, David Johnson. Directed by Denise Di Novi. Rated R for sexual content, violence, some language, and brief partial nudity. 96 minutes.
Okay, here’s the premise: there’s a divorced couple with a child. One of them remarries. The one who doesn’t is jealous of the new spouse. Question: is this a comedy or a drama?
Interestingly enough, it seems to depend on which spouse remarries. If it’s the mother, then it’s a comedy, as in “Daddy’s Home,” where bumbling Will Ferrell tries to win over his stepchildren but has to compete with father and ex-husband Mark Wahlberg. If it’s the husband who remarries, on the other hand, it’s a melodramatic thriller, as with “The Girl on the Train” and now, UNFORGETTABLE.
David and Julia (Geoff Stults, Rosario Dawson) are happily married, and Julia makes room for not only his little girl from his first marriage to Tessa (Katherine Heigl), but tries to have a good relationship with the ex as well. Tessa, at first seemingly all sweetness and understanding, believes Julia is the usurper, who has taken her place and must be removed and destroyed.
Complicating things are Julia’s own troubled past which she is trying to put behind her. Yet the increasingly threatening situation with Tessa is not only putting her at risk, but dredging up things she had hoped to leave behind.
The first-time director is veteran producer Denise Di Novi who has crafted a slick and polished film, but which offers up the same old story of the woman scorned. Indeed, the “surprise” ending–not to be spoiled here–suggests that women are incapable of acting any other way. Those arguing for more opportunities for women to direct present their case as the chance to see things from another perspective. A movie about a woman stalking another woman out of irrational jealousy seems more like a step backward.
Heigl plays for the audience’s sympathy for a while, but as Tessa ratchets up her campaign against Julia it becomes increasingly difficult not to see her as just another in long line of crazy, vengeful women. Dawson has the easier time playing the victim, but neither actress can escape the cliched roles they’re been handed. It’s a double standard that these kinds of rivalries are played out in a dark manner if its between women and comically if it’s men. Could Hollywood make a movie where first husband Mark Wahlberg tries to get rid of stepdad Will Ferrell as a straight thriller? To realize the impossibility of such a film is to recognize what the problem is here.
In the end, audiences are likely to find “Unforgettable” to be all too forgettable, or at least blurred together with several other similarly-themed movies. Heigl and Dawson–and DiNovi–deserve better. So do moviegoers.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.