From her very first moments onscreen, it’s abundantly clear that Katherine Heigl’s Tessa is going to do something crazy. Unforgettable, which is something of a comeback for Heigl, is at its strongest during these moments of restrained violence. When we first meet Tessa, she’s staring at herself in her mirror, surrounded by an army of beauty products. When a woman owns this many eyeshadow brushes—why would you ever need more than two? —it’s easy to imagine her running after her ex-husband’s new fiancee with a kitchen knife (which Tessa will do by the end of this film). Tessa is terrifying, whether she’s brushing her long, straight hair after a long day of plotting against her romantic rival, or taking out all of her aggression during a horseback riding session. It’s a testament to Heigl’s performance that this character is, for all her tightly wound energy and barely concealed hysteria, very funny. Armed with a wardrobe of power dresses and an over-the-top serious delivery, Heigl manages to elevate a script full of tropes into a parodic send-up of the frigid, angry ex-wife.
It would be fascinating to watch Katherine Heigl play a woman who is demonized for being too much: angry, critical, or just unmanageable. Unfortunately, this is not that movie. Heigl’s Tessa really is crazy—full-on sealed juvenile records, tried to burn her father alive crazy. Somehow, we are meant to believe that her ex-husband David (Geoff Stults) didn’t know any of this, leaving his new girlfriend Julia (Rosario Dawson) to put together the pieces before it’s too late. Tessa wants her ex back, and tries to get Julia out of the picture by making a fake Facebook account and catfishing Julia’s ex-boyfriend, who physically abused her. All of this clumsy plotting culminates in two fight scenes: between Julia and her ex, who Tessa essentially sicced on her, and between Julia and Tessa.
For a film that owes so much to its female characters—I think Whitney Cummings has more lines in this movie than the man Julia and Tessa are presumably fighting over—Unforgettable really hates women. For starters, it pits two strong, accomplished women against each other over a random dude who quit Merrill Lynch to start his own craft brewing company. I understand that the American middle class isn’t what it used to be, but are breadwinners really so few and far between that two women would be physically duking it out for the opportunity to coax this dude through his mid-life crisis? Julia leaves her job at the internet’s leading storytelling platform (…) to move to a new town and start a life with her fiancé—the same man that Tessa, a Stanford grad, has presumably spent her entire divorce trying to get back.
Of course, it’s impossible to watch this movie without thinking about its undeniable predecessor: a little film called Obsessed. From their one-word titles to their many scenes of women staring at themselves in the mirror while wearing sheath dresses, Obsessed and Unforgettable are cut from the same cloth. They’re both stories about determined, unhinged white ladies who are trying to steal a man by any means necessary. They both culminate in girl-on-girl fight scenes, and teach us that the key to a happy marriage is communicating, never letting your restraining order expire, and not living in California. Seriously, what are they putting in that West Coast white lady water?
Naturally, there are a few differences that make Obsessed a cult classic, and Unforgettable just barely watchable. First of all, Obsessed stars Idris Elba as “the husband,” Beyoncé Knowles as his wife, and Ali Larter as the conniving femme fatale. Let me say that again: Beyoncé. Rosario Dawson is many things, including a fine actress, but she will never be 2009 Beyoncé. Despite the fact that Beyoncé wears a tiny cropped vest and knee-high suede boots around the house, Obsessed actually ages fairly well, and somehow manages to feel more relevant than its 2017 knockoff. Maybe that’s because in Obsessed, Ali Larter is a career woman who has the hots for Idris Elba (relatable!) as opposed to an unnecessarily unemployed ex-wife who refuses to pick herself up and make a match.com profile.
In Obsessed, not only is the man actually worth fighting for, but everybody has the appropriate reaction to Ali Larter’s campaign of craziness. Idris Elba’s character doesn’t tell his wife, because he hopes it will blow over. When she finds out, she kicks him out of the house for three months, and then proceeds to beat the shit out of Ali Larter. These good life decisions stand in direct contrast to Unforgettable, a confusing film in which a man doesn’t know that his ex-wife is a psychopath, a woman refuses to leave her boyfriend even though her life is in real and immediate danger, and nobody ever calls the police.
If there’s one thing that dates Obsessed, it’s the casual workplace harassment of a gay male secretary—also the fact that Idris Elba listens to “American Boy” in the car on the way to work. But while not all the jokes land, Obsessed is still genuinely funny. It’s simply more fun to watch an aggressively un-chill, horny temp grind on Idris Elba than to watch Katherine Heigl engage in cybercrimes in an empty mansion. As the ultimate late-aught’s temptress, Larter gets to wear multiple trench coats, and sends her prey a creepy email composed entirely of a huge, old-timey smiley face. When she breaks into Beyoncé’s home, she’s wearing Louboutin’s and holding a magnum of champagne—just because! Of course, she’s also a sexual predator who literally roofies someone. I’m not going to go so far as to say that female rapists advance the cause of gender equality, but it’s nice to see an evil woman who’s motivated by her psychotic sexuality as opposed to her all-encompassing desire to be a stay-at-home mom.
But while Larter is the charismatic woman on the verge, Beyoncé is the real heroine in this film. As the no-nonsense wife who will not stand for Ali Larter’s tomfoolery, she gets to say things like, “You think you’re crazy, I’ll show you crazy. Just try me bitch.” By the end of the film, Beyoncé is done with her fancy security system and her incompetent husband—she literally hangs up on him so she can continue to “wipe the floor” with Larter’s “little skinny ass”. Again, these are all actual lines that Beyoncé gets to say in this film.
Obsessed truly ascends to greatness when Beyoncé decides to take matters into her own hands, resulting in one of the best fight scenes of all time. After dragging each other through the house, Larter lures her sparring partner into the attic. Beyoncé—dirty, sweaty, and somehow still wearing heeled booties—uses Larter’s own body weight against her, and tricks her into falling through the flimsy attic floor. Larter falls into the living room but manages to grab on to a chandelier. She then loses her grip and is slammed through a glass table. Bloody and bruised, Larter momentarily opens her eyes, only to watch helplessly as the chandelier crushes her dead. Beyoncé emerges shaken but triumphant, and the credits roll—set to the tune of a Beyoncé song. It might not be Bey back-lit by a glowing “FEMINIST” sign, but it will do.