By: BabyRuth (Five Beers) –
Like my fellow members of the Oregon Trail Generation, which I just learned is a thing, I grew up on early 90s erotic thrillers. I remember going to see movies like Unlawful Entry, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Basic Instinct, and The Crush at a tiny two-screen theater in my hometown. My best friend and I had a foolproof plan to get into the R rated films: We’d buy tickets to whatever the other movie was (most of the time it was a family-friendly alternative) and then we’d sneak into the screening of the juicier film. I wasn’t familiar with the term “guilty pleasure” at the time; I just knew those movies were fun as hell. (Made even more fun by the fact that we were getting away with seeing them.)
So I couldn’t be happier about the renaissance of the genre in recent years. Ranging from AWESOME (The Boy Next Door) to dully formulaic (The Perfect Guy) to somewhere in the middle (Obsessed), I welcome every single damn one of them and will gladly plunk down cash money (well, early-bird matinee cash money) in hopes of finding a new guilty pleasure as well as getting those nostalgic warm fuzzies while watching well-lit sex scenes and kitchen knife fights to the death.
Don’t judge- I turned out okay.
The latest offering in stalker-cinema is Unforgettable which comes to us from first-time director (but longtime producer) Denise Di Novi with a screenplay written by Christina Hodson (Shut In –eh, one of my Worst of 2016 picks, but hope remains).
Julia (Rosario Dawson, clearly owing someone a favor) is a down-to-earth, successful website editor who uproots her life to move in with fiancé David (Geoff Stults), a former Wall Street bigshot who left that whole racket to follow his dream of starting a brewery. David is a package deal: He has a young daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice), whom he shares custody of with his ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl).
Tessa, wouldn’tchaknow, is the exact opposite of fun-loving, laid-back Julia. A perfectionist in every sense of the word, Tessa is one of those women whose ass is clenched so tightly, one wonders how she has bowel movements. (Answer: these women never have bowel movements) It’s clear from the very first side-eye that something is very off with her.
As Tessa watches Julia step in to her old life, she becomes more and more enraged and it’s on. Tessa begins popping up unannounced to criticize Julia’s parenting skills or to make her jealous of her long past with David.
Julia struggles to fit into her complicated new life and at the same time tries to cope with a dangerous past which she keeps hidden from her new family. Not only was she a… smoker, she also has an abusive ex (Simon Kassianides) and the restraining order has just run out.
Of course, an increasingly unhinged (and hilariously technologically-savvy) Tessa finds a way to use this to her advantage and is soon playing puppet-master in making Julia’s life a living hell and threatening her relationship with David and Lily.
With the help of her obligatory best friend who has nothing going on in her life (a barely recognizable Whitney Cummings), Julia then finds out Tessa has some dark secrets of her own.
Julia explains everything to an understanding David, who definitely does not brush it off and say things will blow over in between his big beer meetings and celebrations. The grown adults all go to therapy and work out their differences. Tessa gets the mental health help she desperately needs and everything turns out great.
I’m just kidding.
A giant toast to Katherine Heigl, who after several attempts at becoming America’s rom-com sweetheart with varying results, two failed TV series, and years of backlash for her icy public persona has finally found her acting calling! She is a revelation as Tessa, completely and deliciously basking in the bitchery and evilness of the character. It feels as if Heigl is satirizing (while still playing it ultra-straight, mind you, and swinging for the goddamn fences at that) her “difficult” real-life reputation and owning it in a great big, “Fuck you” to her critics. It’s beautiful. From aggressively brushing her hair like a deranged Marcia Brady to the way she takes a single, tiny, sip of beer, to my-master-plan-is-working-MUHAHAHA! vaping (seriously, and tip: see this one in a packed theater if possible) she is absolute Rebecca De Mornay perfection with every movement. I truly hope this is the beginning of a comeback for Heigl and my god, please more villain roles for her in the future!
Rosario Dawson is better than she needs to be as poor, terrorized, cool girl Julia. She, too, thoroughly commits to the role of the only character who might actually exist in real life.
Geoff Stults is the man in the middle of it all and… well? He looks good. He’s not given much to do and his character is often conveniently out of town on beer business, but the best parts of the film are when the two lead women are together so it really doesn’t matter.
Cheryl Ladd shows up as Tessa’s mother in an attempt to provide an explanation for why Tessa is the way she is and even, sort of, elicit some sympathy for our villain. The effort is appreciated, most of all because Ladd is amazing in the part. She’s botoxed, “Can I speak to your manager?,” excellence as a woman who makes her granddaughter refer to her never as Grandma, but as “Lovey.”
“And darling, you can’t support yourself.”
I’ll give another toast to the overall look of the movie. Everything is just really pretty – the homes are gorgeous and the hair/makeup/clothing choices are flawless: Tessa’s stick-straight, long platinum hair and impeccably fitted, usually white, designer wardrobe and Julia’s beachy waves and boho dresses clash in a Hamptons vs Coachella way. Yes, the contrast is obvious, but we don’t get a lot of actual character development in these kind of movies, so once again, I appreciate that the effort was made in the details.
Make no mistake, this is not a good movie. It’s as predictable as a hasty, ill-advised, early morning Trump tweet. (However, I do give the film props for using some restraint regarding the fate of the usually doomed best friend and family pet. There’s also a ballerina jewelry box spotting which made me groan, but it’s thankfully not used as a plot device.)
We hit all the appropriate beats of the genre, down to the final big fight complete with hair-pulling, fireplace pokers, and a crazy-eyed Tessa in a flowing white robe.
It would be one thing if there were an ounce of self-awareness anywhere, but Di Novi plays it earnestly, which makes everything come off a bit clueless. I’m not saying it’s not fun, it definitely is (again, God bless you, Katherine Heigl), but it could have been more fun had it embraced the camp a little more.
Even the title is generic and begging to be mocked. At one point Tessa is referred to as “Psycho Barbie”. If that had been the title, I guarantee this movie would have made a couple more million opening weekend.
In films like this, usually getting there is half the fun with a slow build as the villain pretend-plays nice at first with the crazy gradually leaking out. This movie says ain’t nobody got time for that and jumps right in. It makes me wonder why they even bothered including a temporarily making-nice scene of margarita-fueled bonding between the two women since the very next has the pair once again at odds.
Damn, I could go for a margarita right about now.
Oh wait, I know! To lead up to the mandatory “erotic” scene of Julia impulsively dragging David out of his umpteenth (I lost count) celebration of his dumb craft brewery to have some hot, well-lit movie sex in some person’s house. This is riotously intercut with Tessa masturbating in front of her computer while sexting Julia’s abusive ex. It’s meant to be titillating, but received snorts and stifled giggles at my screening.
Just when it appears the movie is over, we are treated to a “Six Months Later” scene which is completely unnecessary and makes less sense the more you think about it. And not to spoil anything, but geez, how resilient is that little girl?
While The Boy Next Door still retains its title as Best Guilty Pleasure of the 2010s, Unforgettable is definitely worth checking out (my five beer rating be damned!), especially for Katherine Heigl’s performance. Catch a matinee after having a few margaritas beforehand. Man, I really want a margarita.
Unforgettable (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever hair is brushed
Take a Drink: for every fakeout jump scare
Take a Drink: whenever someone has a hallucination
Take a Drink: whenever Tessa looks in a mirror
Take a Drink: whenever Julia does something incredibly stupid like leave her cellphone on a table or use their birthday as a password
Take a Drink: whenever a landline phone is used (who still has a landline?)
Do a Shot: whenever anyone asks about Julia’s engagement ring
Do a Shot: for every unknown call Julia receives Do another Shot: every time she asks “WHO IS THIS?” (Girl, they aren’t going to tell you!)
Chug: during the “erotic” sex/masturbation scene