Every couple of years, that friend resurfaces. She’s a little flaky but earnest in her commitment to “explore life to the fullest.” One moment she’s preparing to become a welder, then she’s found her calling as an event planner, and after that she realizes that all along she really wanted to be an EMT. Each phase consumes and transforms, and her identity is entirely wrapped up in her latest passion project. She might be wildly successful or she might be incapable of holding a job. Her optimism is both inspiring and annoying.
Complete Unknown tells the story of a woman (played by the very impressive Rachel Weisz) who is not unlike that friend—but each time she starts over, she gets a new name and a new town, and leaves everything and everyone from her previous life behind. She’s like Frank Abagnale in Catch Me If You Can, using creative trickery to instantly begin living her dream life. With today’s demands, she not only has to forge documents, but also create a handful of plausible Google search results—this time, for a field biologist named Alice who studies frogs.
The film (directed by Joshua Marston, creator of the heart-wrenching Maria Full of Grace) is distastefully quirky and takes itself far too seriously, but it’s fun to watch because liars are fascinating. The best moments are when a liar, deeply invested in their imagined reality, fucks up their story and is forced to admit to their deception. Alice is often pitiable, but she’s also a reminder of the open-endedness of things… and it’s empowering to realize that most of us put in the hard work of (mostly) telling the truth, following through, and keeping in touch.