Amazon Studios/IFC Films 90 minutes R
Ever dream of leaving your life as it is now and do something completely different? Change your name and jump into doing something you’ve never done before. That’s what this psychological drama is all about. But it’s more than that. It’s about coming to grips with your own identity.
From the get go, you see Rachel Weisz in scene after scene as a research assistant, a nurse, a model, even as a magician’s assistant, even before the first credit. It’s a teaser. Weisz must have had fun dressing up as all of those characters. But who is this woman?! Sometimes Weisz shows her as exuberant, other times vapid, staring into space.
This film is a head turner. We interviewed Director Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) who likes exploring the concept of identity. He also likes is people can get away with transforming, even lying and manipulating situations to see if they can pull it off. Written by Marston and Julian Sheppard, the script reveals, in bits and pieces, what the characters in this film are up to. It’s intriguing.
Marston follows this woman to get to the real reason for her strange behavior. There are scenes of her sizing up a new apartment. Then, is she stalking someone? She’s mysterious. You don’t know if she’s dangerous or not. There are shots of her and the other characters in the movie as reflections on a wall, in a mirror, so you can see what they’re doing but not full face. That adds to the mystery.
The woman wrangles a date with a man invited to his co-worker, Tom’s, birthday party. The birthday boy is her real target, played by Michael Shannon. This time, instead of playing a crazed psychopath, evil being or father of an alien, Shannon plays a rather boring government worker whose wife is making the party against his wishes. It’s a tense time in their marriage because his wife, Ramina, played by Azita Ghanizada, has been accepted to a graduate jewelry design program in California which would force him to move. Several scenes set up the conflict and then the fun begins.
Upon arriving, the woman is introduced as Alice. But Tom recognizes her as Jennifer, the woman he had an affair with who up and left 15 years ago. He thought she was dead!
The scene around the dinner table shows Tom trying to wrap his head around why she’s there, and why she has a different name. His facial expressions tell all. There’s a lot going on at the table. The interaction is tension filled, but very authentic. The conversation flows normally in what is a very unusual situation.
Marston says the dinner scene is his favorite because of the way we slowly learn what’s up with this woman. She has fun sharing her research on a special species of frogs by playing audio of them croaking! Tom is confused. We all are.
The director says it was hard to shoot to get all the relevant glances and the actors really had to be committed to keep the story going. Alice becomes the center of attention with her quirky conversation. At times, it’s tension filled and uncomfortable, but also kind of exciting. After dinner and enough alcohol, Alice gets the group to go dancing and is able to separate Tom from the group for a walk, talk and trip to the lab and pond where she is studying those croaking frogs. For real.
Continuing their walk, they run into an older woman walking her dog (Kathie Bates) who falls and needs help getting home. Talking with she and her husband, (Danny Glover,) Jennifer and Tom seem like a couple. Tom gets to feel what it’s like to assume a new identity when Jennifer offers Tom’s expertise as a doctor! He plays along. The scene with Bates and Glover is awkward but charming and provides some comedy and relief from the heaviness of the film.
When Weisz was cast, she collaborated on some of the script and says one line she improvised made it into the movie. “As soon as people feel they know who you are, then you're trapped.” Her character has issues with intimacy and commitment and her way of escape is to reinvent herself. She levels with Tom revealing that she’s had nine lives!
Weisz and Shannon are incredibly convincing in this curious and sometimes uncomfortable movie. There isn’t a lot of action, but it doesn’t feel too long or slow. The opening scenes of this woman make you wonder, what you would do if you could just up and be someone else, somewhere else. It could be exciting but, obviously, something was missing in Jennifer’s life. Being extremely smart and adaptable wasn’t enough. Would it be enough for you? This film gives you food for those daydreams.