A review of 2014’s catastrophically retrograde The Other Woman in The Guardian bore the legend ‘Hollywood 1, Bechdel 0’. If we continue this analogy with regard to Denise Di Novi’s ridiculous new erotic thriller, not only has Bechdel lost the game, she’s mistaken the date of the match and is still at home, blissfully dozing in the solace of utopian feminist dreams.
The film sees work-from-home editor Julia (Rosario Dawson) stalked and manipulated by her fiancé’s ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl). Tessa doesn’t have a job, but she still finds the time and money to drag her suffering daughter, Lily (Isabella Kai Rice) to learn horse-riding and to tea with her control freak of a mother (a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in The Stepford Wives). She plans to weaponise Julia’s ex-boyfriend and abuser, Michael (Simon Kassianides), of whom husband-to-be, David (Geoff Stults), is unaware.
In this respect, David and the film share common ground. Unforgettable is utterly unaware of its questionable script, blind to its total lack of thrills and somehow oblivious to the fact its narrative shared by two women becomes all about the man caught in the crossfire. It’d be very easy to get angry about this lumpen step backwards, but with everything else on display dawdling in the void between funny-bad and just plain awful, any heightened emotion is hard to come by.
I’ll happily watch Rosario Dawson in anything (she’s one of the few reasons I ever found enjoyment in the Sin City films), but she looks lost here, poorly served by a script that makes some pretence of empowerment but often robs her character of genuine agency in service of plot. When Tessa makes Julia feel uncomfortable or acts abusively towards her own daughter, Julia withholds from explaining the situation in full to her partner, further sowing the seeds of suspicion. It’s an act of laziness that belongs in straight-to-DVD fodder, not theatrical fare.
Having been exposed to a fair few insipid revenge dramas in my time (read: the bowels of Netflix’ ‘drama’ category), I recognise that my exasperated reaction to such tired ‘woman scorned’ tropes and overblown melodrama may not be shared by a handful of average cinema-goers. However, the tiny audience in my screening sighed, snickered and smirked in unison, immediately dispelling any level of tension.
We needn’t even wait for the signposted finale to begin our guffawing: it was Heigl’s angry show-jumping montage that got the ball rolling. The title itself should have been a giveaway, not only making zero sense in the context of the film, but inviting the ire of critics everywhere with the same clueless idiocy of Madonna’s theme for W.E., ‘Masterpiece’ – the strap lines write themselves.
You can see the filmmakers trying to force some semblance of tautness but it’s hard to sustain investment when Tessa (or “Psycho Barbie”, as Julia’s bestie refers to her) stares unblinkingly into a mirror, straightening her laughably sharp locks while an entire string orchestra thrums and bellows just off-camera. We’re not quite in the barmy realms of Eli Roth’s similarly ludicrous Knock Knock, but it’s a close-run thing.
Without the Nicholas Cage-like performance of Keanu Reeves and the yucky gender politics, we’re left only with a plot as predictable as the sunrise, dialogue as elegant as a broken escalator and an approach to the subject of mental health and domestic abuse with all the insight of a brick wall. It’s the sort of film that one imagines receiving a luxurious, bells-and-whistles release from Arrow video in a few decades’ time to give us all a good laugh and time to reflect on how far we’ve come.