For how long must misguided romantic thrillers extinguish perverse genre passions? The Boy Next Door set a recent bar for camp-tastic obsessing and killing in the name of love, one that movies like Unforgettable limbo under in the full upright position. Director Denise Di Novi pits ex-wife against bride-to-be, but fumbles tone like a nervous virgin unclasping his or her first bra. Katherine Heigl is less Psycho Stepford Barbie and more Bride Of Frankenstein – in that she emotes the villainy of a dead corpse. When going the route of fake online profiles and orgasm by identity theft, why sell insanity short? At the very least, don’t serve up such easy puns with a title like Unforgettable – which, unsurprisingly, is pretty damn forgettable.
Rosario Dawson stars as Julia Banks, future wife of David Connover (Geoff Stults). Julia uproots her life and moves in with David, beginning their new California adventure together. Sunshine welcomes the couple initially, until David’s ex-wife Tessa (Katerine Heigl) makes her presence known with increased aggression. You see, David was already a father before meeting Julia. Returning to his hometown allows for custody sharing of little Lily (Isabella Kai Rice). That’s until Tessa starts invading Julia’s privacy, as she goes mad with maternal jealousy. New flame versus old flicker – who will win when it comes down to accepting the next stage of their lives with David?
It’s a fair fight and all. Julia, the once-abused fiancée, against Tessa, the prim-and-proper society gal who’ll do anything when it comes to the life she “deserved.” There can’t be two mama bears, so let the fur fly – right? Wrong! Unforgettable is such a rigid thriller in the most uninformed senses, as writers Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson script one of those sigh-worthy efforts forwarded by inexplicable ignorance. It’s a perfect storm of runaway children, silent home invasions and negligent police work, with an added internet program that erases your digital footprint. As imagined, tension runs thinner than Tessa’s silky white nightgown – what Kellyanne Conway might don were she auditioning for some puritanical Giallo flick. No one believes anyone, or does any homework. Just a whole bunch of crazy that goes unchecked.
Tessa is given the proper psychological backstory, but Heigl doesn’t know what to do with it. We never feel the unhinged madness of a suburban tyrant whose divorce unearths problems left by her own parents’ split. Heigl ranges one emotion; this plastic smile that gives way to controlling bitchiness (inherited from her even more stuck-up mother played by Cheryl Ladd). Tessa cuts Lily’s long, flowing locks because Julia keeps sending her home with knots – this is the extent of her brainwashing, mind you. Otherwise, it’s unannounced visits and stories about being taken by David in a multitude of positions (gal chat over margaritas). Tessa is always in command, but we never truly fear – or enjoy – her torment. The ONLY moment Di Novi indulges our taste for trash occurs when Tessa touches herself in a fit of excited destruction (messaging Julia’s abusive ex AS Julia), and even then, laughter ensues.
It doesn’t help that characters interact like strangers at the weirdest times. Like, David HAD to know Tessa was a bit off the reservation since they, you know, were married and all? Yet he’s always taking Tessa’s side? And yes, it’s understood that she’s the mother of his child. Still. Julia is cast aside and too easily made the wicked witch. Even when David and Julia share this lusty bathroom romp which is supposed to rekindle some kind of primal love, they act like they’ve never met. Dawson remains imprisoned inside Julia’s mind as she hallucinates her old woman-beating boyfriend (although these visions are oddly clear), but she still finds ways to overshadow Heigl’s devious mastermind (equestrian blow-off-steam scene and all). Incriminating evidence is withheld for no reason, and logic is rarely used – which is fine for Rice’s small child, but not when it comes to Geoff Stults’ all-American brewer or either female combatant.
Unforgettable is a lovestruck battle of wits minus the wit. Katherine Heigl strikes no fear as a cyber-savvy homewrecker in need of a good douching, while conflicts flatline under the weight of apologies, ignorance and expected generics. Denise Di Novi frames a “thriller” that could pass as any number of Lifetime specials, scored by redundant pop beats and captured without inherent devilishness. “Forgettable” doesn’t even begin to describe this extreme (and negative) representation of broken households. And at 100 minutes? That’s some “powerful dramatic storytelling” length for a film that should have been short-and-stabby schlock. LIKE THE BOY NEXT DOOR. Oh well, at least we still have J-Lo’s cookies to remind us of better times, and better horror stories about obsession.
Unforgettable is a "How Not To" guide for romantic thrillers, passionless and without tension when it comes to the conflict at hand.