Let’s be clear: “Unforgettable” is garbage movie-making. It’s trashy and silly, and gleefully so. But it embraces what it is and has fun with it.
This movie is firmly in the tradition of thrillers about women characters in conflict with each other, usually over a man, a child, a job, or all three — “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Single White Female,” etc. One is a normal gal with some issues, and the other is a seemingly perfect woman who turns out to be a maniac, and possibly a homicidal one.
We just know things are going to end up with extensive hair-pulling and some stabby-stabby stuff.
This is definitely a “boys to the side” movie. There are a couple of male characters, but they represent opposite ends of the spectrum: the idyllic boyfriend, devoted and non-threatening, and the bad boy from the past who’s abusive but exciting.
The movie belongs to Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl. It’s a nice contrast, both physically and in their star personas. Heigl is the tall, icy blonde with a reputation for not playing well with others. Dawson is the ethnically diverse heroine with an innate sense of genuineness. It’s clear who we’re supposed to root for.
Dawson plays Julia, a story editor who’s moving from San Francisco to small-town Foothill in southern California to be with her beau, David (Geoff Stults) and his young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice). It’s a big move for her, as several years ago she escaped an abusive relationship with a man (Simon Kassianides) whose specialty was making her feel worthless.
The protective order she had against her abuser is about to expire, so one benefit of the move is it’ll make it harder to find her. She keeps a low profile, with no Facebook or other social media presence.
David is a former Merrill Lynch hotshot who gave it up a few years ago to move back to his hometown and start the Copper Mountain Brewery. His ex-wife, Tessa (Heigl), still lives in their old house and has joint custody with Lily. She doesn’t work, or seem to do anything but clip-clop with the other Stepford Wives along the rows of tony shops lining the little downtown.
Tessa is outwardly friendly to Julia, but subtly undermines her relationship with David and her growing one with Lily. It starts out as little digs, dropping by the house unannounced, possessiveness of her daughter, etc. At one point they try to mend fences with a lunch and margaritas, during which Tessa talks about how great her sex life with David used to be, followed by the mic-drop line: “But I don’t have to tell you how he is.”
Of course, the next time Julia sees David, she feels compelled to jump on him for some hot canoodling. The sex scenes in this movie are the sort where the women always keep their tops on, because we know men are totally not into breasts or anything.
Things go from there, to outward hostility, fights over whose day it is with Lily, and more. Tessa steals Julia’s online identity and uses it to reach out to her abusive ex.
We know exactly where this is going, but director Denise Di Novi, a veteran producer making her directing debut, and screenwriters Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson keep things moving briskly. There are practically cue cards when we’re supposed to hiss at Tessa, cheer for Julia or laugh at some of the goofier bits.
Cheryl Ladd (!!) turns up as Tessa’s suspiciously smooth-faced mother, and we see where her overly critical ways — “Don’t drag your knife, and the silver needs polishing” — come from. Whitney Cummings has a nice turn as Ali, Julia’s former boss and fiercely protective she-friend.
The socioeconomics of Foothill are interesting; it’s like Sonoma meets Carmel. Everybody seems to be rich as shit, yet David cracks lines about his tiny little start-up, not being able to pay his friend’s wife for her legal work, etc. Tessa trades in her daughter’s pony for a full-size horse, and muses about getting a job just to make use of her degree. That’s contrasted with Julia’s more economical wardrobe and econobox car.
My guess is Tessa is living off her divorce settlement and / or alimony. David drives a Beamer and lives in his parents’ house, a sprawling, secluded stucco manse that would go for seven figures even if it were in Indianapolis instead of SoCal.
The late, great critic Pauline Kael loved to love movies that were, in her words, “glorious trash.” I don’t think I’d put “Unforgettable” into that category. But I can’t deny it’s enjoyable in a cheap, slightly naughty way.