Alice (Rachel Weisz) has been invited to a friend’s party by a man she met in a corporate cafeteria (Michael Chernus). She told him she needed friends, so under the guise of friendship (hey! he has friends!) and not very veiled romantic interest (Alice is really hot and a scientist… even hotter!) Clyde brings him to his friend Tom’s small birthday party. But anyone who has seen intense actor Michael Shannon’s laser eyes knows that something is not quite right when he, Tom, is introduced to “Alice”. Tom recognizes this woman as Jenny, a girl who abruptly disappeared from his life (and everyone else’s) 15 years before.
Alice is in Tom’s house, and he acts like a suspicious animal around her. His friends chat her up as she talks about the singing frogs that she studies on Long Island. Wow, she is so full of interesting stories! She lived in Tasmania in the woods for years! Wait, she was in the circus in China? No, wait, her name DID used to be Jennifer, she suddenly admits when some of her stories start to curl. She is non-chalant about this admission. Some of Tom’s friends are impressed, thinking how bold and freeing, others are pissed when she confesses she hasn’t seen or contacted her family the whole time. Tom’s knowledge and familiarity still only is known between the two of them.
Complete Unknown surprised me, as I couldn’t help but think that I hadn’t seen a movie quite like this before. You have stellar actors anchoring a curious plot the slowly unwinds but never gives away all its secrets. Alice/Jenny’s lifestyle is presented as intriguing and freeing, but never the real answer. Tom, a married working man, is simultaneously angry and put off by being the receiver of her fleeing all those years before, but at the same time, Alice/Jenny throws him enough bones to let him know how the life she chose can intoxicating.
I felt strangely refreshed after seeing this film. It reminded me of a friend, also a young woman, who made a similar decision in my social circle years ago. He severing of her old life was not as extreme as Alice/Jenny, but still she fled in an attempt to completely reinvent a new life for herself. People like my friend, and Rachel Wiesz’s character are not necessarily sympathetic, but they are not villains either. They are just flawed humans that you honestly hope can find happiness in their searching.