Directed by Denise Di Novi
Written by Christina Hodson
Starring: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Whitney Cummings, Robert Wisdom and Isabella Kai Rice
Runtime: 100 minutes
When I first saw that Rosario Dawson was in a movie called Unforgettable, I thought that they’d made a Natalie Cole biopic and got kind of excited. Then I saw the trailer depicting a movie about a jealous ex who tried to get rid of her ex-husband’s new love and try to get back where she thought she ‘belonged’ and got dismayed. I thought we were past these misogynistic, stereotype pictures. Not only is there the misguided ‘crazy ex-girlfriend/wife’ angle, there is also a hidden connotation in a pretty blond woman trying to take back her perceived ‘rightful’ place from a woman of color, which makes the whole thing distasteful and ugly though it’s likely the filmmakers didn’t realize this while they were making the picture.
I wish I could say that there was more to it, but aside from plot points on how Tessa (Katherine Heigl) goes about destroying Julia (Rosario Dawson)’s life, that’s it in a nutshell. Also, I realize that the premise sounds like some kind of mean-spirited comedy, as per Heigl’s typical vein, but it’s a thriller. Rather, it’s intended to be a thriller. But, like The Girl on the Train before it, the pacing is so slow that when things happen, the impact is muted and by the time the real action starts, you just don’t care. It’s only 1 hour and 40 minutes, but it feels like 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back.
The script, by Christina Hodson, is limp and lifeless, never really getting started before it’s over and giving away far too much in the first 10 minutes to make any of the rest of the film worthwhile. Her only other credit is Shut In from 2016 starring Naomi Watts as a widowed child psychologist that lives in the middle of nowhere and starts to lose her mind (if that sounds too much like Bergman’s Persona, there’s a reason for that). She opens her film in the police station, with Julia accused of murdering her abusive ex-boyfriend whom the police think she contacted on Facebook after her restraining order against him expired and she could not have it reinstated. We then flash back six months to Julia moving in with her fiancé and telling Tessa, and us, that she can’t follow her soon-to-be step-daughter’s activity groups on Facebook because she doesn’t have an account. So 20 minutes in and we already know Tessa’s master plan and we have to wait another hour for it to come to fruition. Add to that the crutch (and insensitivity) of using mental illness to vilify the antagonist and you get something that offends as well as bores.
Things are not helped along at all by producer-turned-director Denise Di Novi, whose feature debut this is. Her languid pace and extended interludes of nothing happening drag this down to a near stop. It’s possible that the beginning in the police station was Di Novi’s decision, but either way, it kills the suspense that is supposed to be building long before Di Novi does by taking an approach that has absolutely no sense of urgency at all.
The only bright spots in the film are Dawson and Heigl’s performances, though Heigl’s deteriorates in the third act. Dawson finally gets her name above the titles and has a starring role, and it’s long overdue. Unfortunately, it’s in this picture and will either go largely unseen or unappreciated because of the dreck surrounding it. She does her best, imbuing Julia with her usual amount of casualness and intensity. Dawson is really a nuanced actress, and she tries to be so here, but Di Novi didn’t seem to stress that in her direction and the script certainly didn’t call for it. Heigl gives a decent turn as the mentally unstable villain, quite unlike many of her other roles in either rom coms or on Grey’s Anatomy. She’s expert at playing the icy, domineering blond (who was domineered as a child by her own icy, blond mother). The trouble is, she goes too far in establishing that we aren’t to like her. That doesn’t appear to be Heigl’s fault, though. The explain everything script really only gives her character one note and she’s expected to play it loud and long.
Unforgettable may be solid proof that producers can’t direct. Di Novi is a veteran producer whose credits date back to 1983 and include some great movies like Heathers, Edward Sissorhands, Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, as well as some monumental duds like Batman Returns, Catwoman and the Olsen Twins feature New York Minute. Now that she’s picked up directing, it seems like she’s applying all of her producer knowledge to actual filmmaking and it doesn’t work. Directors can be very effective as their own producers, but producers cannot be their own directors. They try to take all the things that market research has told them the public wants (and Rosario Dawson partially nude doesn’t hurt) and then crams them into the picture without a thought to story, pacing or credibility.
There is also the point I made earlier, about a pale blond wanting to regain what she lost to a woman of color. First, it’s great that Dawson has a starring role and her name above the title. However, the optics are just bad considering the current political climate. And you can’t even blame it on the fact that the filming likely wrapped before the 2016 election because the racially charged notion of a group of (white) people wanting to ‘take their country back’ from people who believe in diversity, or the LGBTQ community, or non-whites in general, has been prevalent since the 2008 election of Barack Obama. This picture just feels like a weird microcosmic version of that bigoted concept.
Unforgettable genuinely isn’t worth the time or effort needed to sit through it. The only clever thing about it is the title, and that was unintentional. Best bet is that it will only live on in name only on the IMdB pages of its cast and crew and people will look at it and say “Rosario Dawson was in a movie in 2017?”.