True story: Right after the final line of “Unforgettable” was uttered, I felt a sudden stinging on the side of my face. Someone in a nearby row at the multiplex had thrown a roasted peanut toward the screen, in what I can only assume was frustration or scorn, and it landed on me.
That peanut, I have to say, was the only unforgettable thing about “Unforgettable,” a truly uneasy mishmash of a movie, in which apparent attempts at addressing serious social themes — there’s a domestic violence subplot — dissolve into total camp. Which one can’t really enjoy, because it doesn’t seem intentional.
The shame is that Rosario Dawson gives an earnest, sympathetic, even moving performance as the victimized character. In contrast, none of her castmates — including Katherine Heigl, trying vainly to find meaning in a ridiculously written part — seem authentic. Somebody didn’t get the memo, but who?
In plot setup only, “Unforgettable” shares something with the recent wonderful thriller “Get Out” — both involve sympathetic characters of color invited into their romantic partner’s lily-white world, where, let’s just say, things do NOT go as planned.
From there, “Get Out” developed into one of the cleverest films in a generation. There’s nothing clever about “Unforgettable,” unless you can find something sharp — no pun intended — about two sexy women hissing at each other over a fireplace poker. (Many of us might find that depressing.)
Dawson is Julia Banks, a woman trying to escape a troubled past. She quits her job, leaves her supportive BFF behind and heads to Southern California, where her new fiance, David, awaits (Geoff Stults, doing generic handsome guy and nothing more).
Things go south from the start. Julia’s attempts to bond with David’s young daughter, Lily, are thwarted by his high-strung, resentful ex-wife, Tessa (Heigl.) Although Tessa and David have been apart for a few years, Tessa cannot come to terms with the split, and seeing a woman move in with David sends her hurtling straight toward the deep end.
Denise Di Novi, a veteran producer making her directorial debut here, seems to have had higher aspirations than pure camp, but she and screenwriter Christina Hodson don’t help matters (or help Heigl) by making Tessa such a one-dimensional, cartoonish shrew. In an early scene, Tessa, whose lips are fire-engine red and whose hair is white-blonde and perfectly straight, combs her daughter’s hair and says, “Now you’re perfect, just like Mommy.”
Much of her dialogue is similarly obvious and leaden. To show us she misses her husband, the film simply has Tessa watching her wedding video, tears pouring down her face. Or asking her daughter: “Do you miss when Daddy and Mommy lived together?” Maybe Tessa has inherited this lack of subtlety from her mother — poor Cheryl Ladd’s role here is even less nuanced.
Once Tessa gets going, she utilizes every weapon in her arsenal to make Julia’s life hell. This includes setting up a fake Facebook account and engaging a shady character from Julia’s past. It’s here where the domestic violence thread comes in, and, well, sorry, but for most of us, this is not a subject that we want to laugh about in any way, shape or form. So if the filmmakers wanted us to laugh — and by the end, it sure seems like they do — well, maybe that theme wasn’t a great choice. More likely: we’re not supposed to be laughing.
But eventually, everything feels so out of whack that nervous laughter is the only solution.
Or maybe throwing a peanut?
“Unforgettable,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for sexual content, violence, some language, and brief partial nudity.” Running time: 100 minutes. One star out of four.
Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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