One of the realities of film criticism is that a lot times you end up sitting through movies you would never seek out as a paying moviegoer. Sometimes those movies are so much better than you expected that you want to shout it from the rooftops. (Brooklyn comes to mind here.) Those reviews are the most fun to write, for the movies that feel like they need you. Other times you get movies like Unforgettable, a surprisingly well-executed version of exactly what you assumed it would be. Which is to say, it’s a “psycho ex” movie that’s fun, but doesn’t exactly reinvent the genre. It’s a better ending away from being perfect pulp, something Manny Farber would’ve called “Termite Art.” It’s fun while it lasts, let’s say (the opposite of its title, basically). Sometimes that’s enough, but your mileage may vary.
Rosario Dawson plays Julia Banks. She’s gotten over an abusive relationship and has moved down to Malibu to be with her dream fiancée, David (Geoff Stults) and his daughter, just as her restraining order against the last guy expires. But it’s not Julia’s ex that’s psycho of the genre, it’s David’s, his steel-eyed Barbie doll ex-wife, Tessa, played by Katherine Heigl. Now, I could’ve guessed from the trailer that Tessa would spend the whole movie trying to sabotage Julia, and that she’d be doing it over some dude, specifically some insanely bland vanilla man, a Caucasian aspirational husband-bot straight from Crate & Barrel’s Josh Duhamel collection. You know the type. He’s tall. Wears watches. Drives a nice car and doesn’t talk too much or make a big deal about all the money he’s got. David is a Stanford grad who left his job at Merrill Lynch to start a brewery. He’s got money, but also dreams. Earthy, vaguely creative ones, involving investors and hops.
The surprise of Unforgettable is how much fun Katherine Heigl is in it. It turns out she’s much more enjoyable playing the unhinged ex-sorority girl ice queen than she is playing the playful relatable™ rom-com heroine. The concept isn’t much — Unforgettable is basically a gender-swapped thriller version of Daddy’s Home (it’s mom vs. stepmom!), or Big Little Lies minus premium cable and artistic pretensions .(I bet Tessa’s dumb daughter has never even heard of Leon Bridges.) But Tessa’s acts of delicious sabotage are consistently entertaining. She masters both a truly wicked catfishing scheme and subtle gaslighting, like telling Julia conspiratorially, “You guys are so much better, David and I had nothing in common. It was mostly just a physical connection.”