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April 21, 2017

Unforgettable offers us a tragic story: a beautiful, intelligent, talented young woman, forced into playing out one restrictive ideal of femininity. She repeats her dictated role over and over, internalizing her oppression until she becomes the harshest critic of her own imperfections. And even that doesn’t prevent her from being passed over and replaced with a younger, fresher face. Naturally enough, she snaps, throwing just as much craft and dedication into her rage as she once did into her affections; the very dedication that some had found off-putting in the first place. She would claw her way back to her former place, even if she had to destroy herself in the process.

But aside from Katherine Heigl, there’s not much reason to watch this one.

In a switch from her long-running typecasting as a rom-com lead, Heigl takes a heel turn in this psychological and sporadically-erotic thriller. The picture of icy perfection, thanks to her own overbearing mother (Cheryl Ladd), Tessa Conover had everything. Most importantly she had the husband, David (Geoff Stults), with his high-status job at Merrill Lynch, and she had her perfect little girl, Lily (Isabella Rice). But when David decided he’d had enough of real estate and instead started a microbrewery, things were strained. Now divorced and sharing custody of Lily, Tessa’s biggest threat comes in the form of David’s new fiancée, Julia Banks (Rosario Dawson).

Longtime producer Denise De Novi does well enough her first time in the director’s chair, and the script by Christina Hodson and David Leslie Johnson isn’t significantly worse than most others in this genre. They’re not significantly better, though, either. The movie seems to play as if there’s any mystery at all about who’s harassing Julia, which puts a bit of a damper on any tension.

It could have been a fine if somewhat lackluster thriller, except for the one big problem staring us right in Dawson’s face. I’m sure the script was turned in long before she was cast, but it’s impossible to see how a woman of Julia’s complexion sticks out in the otherwise lily-white community in the hills outside Los Angeles and not wonder how that must play into the psychodynamics. A pale blonde ice queen who met her husband at Stanford displaced by a Latina from Oakland, and somehow race never even comes into it? Even at the climax, when police are on their way, there’s no question that Julia’s story will be believed over Tessa’s. It’s a glaring omission.

Still, it’s fascinating to see Heigl turn bad, even if the result is far from unique. Everyone who dismissed her during the rom-com days might have to take another look now that she’s breaking type.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.

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