Overview: A divorcee (Katherine Heigl) gives her ex-husband’s new girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) the worst welcome to the neighborhood of all time. Warner Bros.; 2017; Rated R; 100 minutes.
Is Katherine Heigl Our Joan Crawford?: Watching Unforgettable in a half-empty small theater, I thought to myself, “poor Katherine Heigl.” Her show Doubt was canned after just two episodes this February. Her attempts at big screen comebacks have led her to winning the Razzie for Worst Actress. Now, with the erotic thriller Unforgettable set to bomb in its competition against the eighth installment of ultra dudebro action franchise F8 of the Furious, one has to wonder: what happened to the promising young star of the late aughts? Who did she piss off? Aside from a completely valid criticism of Knocked Up, and misguided comments over Grey’s Anatomy, I can’t think of anything Heigl’s done that would deserve a ten-year shadow cast over her career. Sure, she’s picked some clunkers over the course of time (Zyzzx Road, anyone?), but give the woman a break.
This is not to say that Unforgettable was a good movie. It is not. Is it offensively terrible? No, not at all. (In fact, I actually kind of enjoyed the movie.) Unforgettable didn’t sell itself as anything but what it was, and most of the major plot twists are revealed in the trailer. It was a drama heavily laden with the ridiculous erotic-thriller tropes of the late 90s and early 2000s (Swimfan, Wild Things, or Poison Ivy) that many secretly love to watch. Though there are a number of issues in Unforgettable, ranging from the presentation of mental illnesses and domestic violence to the misogynistic tone of the plot, the film at least earnestly billed itself as the mindless, soapy fun from the get-go. How is that any different from F8 of the Furious?
After seeing the two movies over the weekend, I was curious as to why the film that’s comprised of completely unbelievable action scenes, women predominantly seen through the male gaze, The Rock looking like Jorgen Von Strangle come to life, and truly mind-blowingly stupid dialogue is being heralded for the dumb thrill ride that it is, and Unforgettable is getting trashed. The conflicting reactions, to me, are far more sexist than any part of Unforgettable’s plot. A woman-directed thriller in which women take almost all of the screen time performing a script co-written by a woman is universally panned, yet the equally bad and excruciatingly long F8 gets a pass. A part of me thinks that it’s because the industry loves to hate Katherine Heigl. And, in some ways, she can be seen as the Joan Crawford of our era. A star of the early 1930s, Crawford was labeled “box office poison” by the end of the decade, acting in a number of increasingly lackluster projects following the declaration. However, it was Mildred Pierce that not only put Crawford back into the good graces of Hollywood, but also earned her the first and only Oscar she would ever win. One can only hope that Heigl will be given the same Crawford-style comeback opportunity, following Unforgettable’s predicted flop.
Toxicity: As I said earlier, if you watch the trailer for Unforgettable, you get the basic premise of the movie. Most will and are skewering the sexist mentality of the film, or the one-dimensional characters, but those elements are right on the surface and I’m sure other reviews will cover them thoroughly without my piling-on.
The one thing I will mention here is the absolute lack of chemistry that both female leads had with David (Geoff Stults). Stults fits the role well—David is a white, probably former athlete, hot suburban dad that used to be a Merrill Lynch finance bro but decided to follow his passion (read: made everybody else do what he wants to do) and moved from New York City to Southern California to start a craft brewery. He was perfectly annoying in every single way.
I guess the lack of chemistry could be based upon my own confusion as to why these two smart, ambitious women decided to risk life and death over their relationship with his boring-ass character. I get Tessa’s ( Heigl) motivation for trying to hang onto this “prize,” considering that she’d endured a lifetime of passive aggressive emotional abuse about what a woman should be from her mother (Cheryl Ladd), who looked like what a Botox-injected cross between Lucille Bluth and Luann de Lesseps. Having Tessa’s mother in the film helped explain a lot of her character motivation, and added a little more depth to the plot.
Yes, Tessa and Julia (Rosario Dawson) were fighting over David, but they were also fighting over what David represented. Tessa, who ditched a promising professional life to be with David, is now a late-30s divorcee in a small town far from her stomping ground. After giving up her own livelihood to be with David and then being shunned from that “perfect” life she’d built with her mother’s forcible meddling, Tessa goes haywire and takes out all her pent up rage against her mother and her ex-husband on the wrong target: Julia.
Julia wants that “perfect” life too: she wants to be able to create a new story for herself, one where she’s not broken by abusive parents or ex-partners, and is instead the image of the mother and wife she’s been socially conditioned into wanting to be. However, the scenes with Tessa’s mother and her constant criticisms of Tessa not being good enough as a mother, wife, or daughter put Tessa’s breakdown into perspective. A lifetime of being made to feel like a failure paired with the looming terror of no professional life to return to, and the fact that society throws away women after they hit a certain age, is enough to make anyone a little crazy.
Beer Has Too Many Calories, But Margaritas Are Fine: I left Unforgettable with more questions than criticisms, thanks to the numerous inconsistencies and bizarre character behavior in the film. Who keeps legal documents on their phone? How do iPhones have that much space to hold so many documents and high-res photos clearly taken by a professional camera? How does Julia not hear her door open multiple times in the film? Why does Tessa not drink beer because of the calories but chugs endless glasses of red wine and two massive margaritas? How does Tessa get her hair so perfectly straight? Why is she in such nice put-together outfits when we all know mommies in Southern California live in way too expensive athleisure looks? Can we get a movie where Katherine Heigl vapes the whole time? Why is vaping for evil characters but smoking a cigarette is for good characters? Did anyone else notice that Julia almost never drank alcohol in the entire film? Why do people die instantly after being stabbed, but don’t die after being clunked in the head with a fire poker and bleeding continuously for a solid 15 minutes? IS THAT ACTUALLY WHITNEY CUMMINGS? Was the hair-cutting scene a nod to Mommie Dearest? Why did the reason for Tessa and David’s divorce never come up before Julia moved in with him? How does Julia afford literally anything as the editor of an online publication that basically sounds like a fanfic site? What does “voted number one in online storytelling” even mean? And, most importantly: where can I buy that incredible silk caftan that Tessa wears in the final fight scene?
Overall: Unforgettable is a flawed, sometimes non-sensical film destined to be skewered for being the type of movie it promises itself to be from the very outset.
Featured Image: Warner Bros.