Heigl and Dawson Elevate "Unforgettable"
Perhaps it’s from having watched Fox TV’s excellent mini-series Feud, the chronicle of the fierce rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis that occurred during the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? that put me in the mood for Denise Di Novi’s Unforgettable. Then again, I may have just wanted to turn my brain off at the end of a long day and take in a guilty pleasure. Whatever the case may have been, this potboiler proved to be much more entertaining that I thought it would be, what with it being yet another foray into the cinematic world of the crazed ex who takes to stalking their replacement.
The victim in question is Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson) and as the film begins, she’s in a bit of a jam. A man who’d once stalked her has been found dead in her home and she has no explanation as to how he came to be there, despite the authorities having what looks like ironclad evidence to prove she lured him to the house. It doesn’t look good for the beleaguered woman and through an extended flashback, we find out how she came to be in the predicament she’s in. Seems she crossed paths with Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl), the ex of her fiancé David (Geoff Stults), and despite appearances isn’t quite over the father of their daughter Lily (Isabella Kay Rice). An initial meeting between the two is awkward but goes well and things seem okay…for a while. However, once Tessa learns that there’s a wedding in the offing, she goes into a vicious, downward spiral and the only cure is to get her competition out of the way with extreme prejudice.
The script by Christina Hodson and David Johnson follows the blueprint for films of this sort to a tee. As Tessa’s actions become increasingly more violent, Julia’s becomes more desperate until things reach a critical mass. However, credit must be given for the interesting variations the writers bring to the story. Julia, a victim of domestic violence, is a damaged yet strong woman who’s trying to get her equilibrium back. Conversely, Tessa’s psyche is far from healthy either. Having had to endure her mother’s (Cheryl Ladd) constant criticism and insistence on perfection her entire life, she’s become an exacting woman who demands excellence of herself and all those around her, becoming a mirror image of her parent. In a sense, these women are on equal footing, each injured by those they came to trust and love.
Credit Heigl and Dawson for not resorting to a melodramatic approach, each of them effectively grounding characters that could easily have been rendered as stereotypes. As Tessa, the former star of Grey’s Anatomy takes a realistic and effective approach, showing cracks in the character’s polished veneer, especially when she’s subjected to her mother’s censure. In showing us what makes this character tick, Hodson and Johnson provide more background than what’s usually present in film of this sort. We may not condone what Tessa does, but at least we have some inkling as to why she’s doing it.
Ultimately, Unforgettable can’t fully escape its tawdry roots but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. This is the sort of movie you wallow in, enjoying it because of its cheap qualities, chomping on popcorn and washing it down with diet cola all the while. You may not admit to liking it or recommend it to a friend, but you’ve probably sat through movies of a higher pedigree and had far less fun. I suppose it all evens out in the end.