Director: Denise Di Novi
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Simon Kassianides
Plot: Escaping an abusive husband (Kassianides), Julia (Dawson) finds herself the perfect husband (Stults). But his ex-wife, Tessa (Heigl) makes it her vendetta to pull them apart.
Unforgettable’s biggest mistake is its title. For one, it’s a tad vague and after watching the movie, while I am sure none of the lead characters will necessarily forget the events of the narrative, it is hard to see why it is a fitting name for this film specifically. Also, the name is such easy fodder for a critic’s review, that you can feel bloggers everywhere biting down on the pun that is only a few keyboard strokes away from making it into the final cut. It is perhaps just a little too fitting. Unforgettable is by no means a bad movie, in fact a rather watchable affair. But sneaking into cinemas on a quiet week (it’s easier to justify a watch when it’s not competing with Fast and Furious or Guardians of the Galaxy), Unforgettable is simply a film that no one is clamouring to see. You want it to be good, and to a certain extent it is, but it’s not quite good enough.
Take the plot. There’s nothing overly wrong with the story, per se. A woman running from a troubled past lands herself a dream man. As she adjusts to this new life, she ends up running up against her husband’s ex-wife, Tessa, an upper-class sociopath who gets possessive of their daughter. While Julia tries to live in harmony with Tessa, who her husband is forced to keep in contact with in order to see his daughter, Tessa gets more and more bitter about her old life slipping away from her. The movie charts the lengths Tessa goes to in order to get what she wants, although does she even know what that is? It’s a strong story and while Tessa’s character, who needs to be relatively sane at the start of the story to keep credibility, means that the story has to start slow, it keeps you hooked for the most part. But there isn’t quite enough to fill in the gaps. Director Di Novi does that frustratingly cheap attempt at being edgy by showing an end scene of the film first and then weaving back to it throughout the movie. What this does is draw the line at how far Tessa’s character is willing to go, robbing the audience of the opportunity to find out for themselves. It really makes the middle act suffer, as the slow thriller pace is suddenly robbed of the slow reveal. There are some good beats to Tessa’s descent into villainy, including how intimate she gets with a face from Julia’s past or one delightfully malicious trick from her on a staircase in the middle of an argument with Julia. It is these moments that brings Unforgettable to life and it stands to reason that they would be a lot more effective if we were in the dark about the endgame of Tessa’s plot. Director Di Novi does try to flesh out her movie with directional tricks, but they are obviously padding, which hurts the effect she is going for. There are beats of Unforgettable that come across as something out of a horror movie. The ending is ripped straight from a cheap 70s slasher flick and there are one too many false jump scares (Julia conveniently hallucinates her ex-boyfriend whenever the story starts to sag), thrown into the mix to keep the audience’s pulse racing early on. It means that this strong story feels quite stretched over the course of a feature film and the audience cannot be blamed for peeking at their watches as the final third rolls around.
It would be nice if the characters could hold the film together. And again, there is nothing wrong with the characters in Unforgettable; they just don’t hold a film together. Di Novi casts her leads well, making sure that the central couple, Dawson and Stults, are charismatic enough to keep the audience invested. Dawson can do this kind of role in her sleep, but still commits to the material. Stults is likeable until the very end. And for the first half of the movie, this fuels proceedings, capturing the sense that they don’t deserve the nightmare they find themselves trapped in. But when the story is struggling to stay afloat, they need more to make this movie feel more character driven. Julia needs more bite, rather than the stock character of victim. Stults is asked to be an awesome guy and little else. Even the abusive husband had the opportunity to have a decent character that the script fails to offer him. He is a horrible person, yes, but by the end of the movie, he is as much a victim as Julia, something that would have been interesting to explore. However, the only character this movie pushes to their fullest extent is Tessa. And with Tessa, Heigl finds herself a wonderfully cruel matriarch to dive into. Her character could also be accused of lazy stereotyping, a bitter ex that does horrible things (a knock-off of Gone Girl, if you will), but the story actually makes time to bring Tessa away from the clichéd beginnings. She constantly chases happiness without ever stopping to grab it. She claims to do this out of a love for her daughter, but by the end of the movie, her daughter is merely an excuse for her to set out her wicked scheme. Heigl carries the role beautifully, allowing the character to get small moments of delight from her actions, but for the most part, she seems to carry out her schemes with a sense of duty. Her poker face is rarely dropped, even when the film gets to its final act. She keeps the audience invested in the movie, but when it is clear that Di Novi has the talent to direct intriguing characters in such a compelling, interesting way, it is made even more frustrating, she didn’t try to do it with the rest of her character roster.
Final Verdict: Katherine Heigl is gifted a great character, but the rest of the movie is… damnit, I can’t resist any longer… unforgettable.