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Bliss (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

BLISS (2021)

Starring Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Ronny Chieng, Steve Zissis, Joshua Leonard, Madeline Zima, Slavoj Zizek, DeRon Horton, Eugene Young, Dayne Catalano, Adam William Zastrow, Lora Lee, Darin Cooper, Roberto Montesinos, Kosah Rukavina, Tanya Alexander, Debbie Fan and Bill Nye.

Screenplay by Mike Cahill.

Directed by Mike Cahill.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 104 minutes. Rated R.

There are very few movies that have titles which are more inappropriate than Bliss.

Most of the characters in the movie are kind of miserable, honestly, and sadly that malaise tends to spread to the viewing audience.

I get the fact that the title is supposed to be somewhat ironic – or at the very least an aspiration which seems to be out of reach – but damn, Bliss was a hard trudge to get through. The storyline is confusing and ambiguous, the main characters (and most of the supporting ones) are sort of unlikable, and you never quite know which of two totally separate realities is really what is happening. (Again, I get that is what they were trying to do with the film, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit through.)

On the plus side, it has an actual acting role for Bill Nye the Science Guy, so that’s something. It’s a supporting role, and honestly not all that important to the plot, but you take what you can get.

Unfortunately, Nye is not the star. That falls to Owen Wilson, applying his typical comic shtick to a mostly serious, rather pathetic, even a touch tragic character. His character (well, he has two different names in two different realities) sleepwalks through the action, numb and in a near constant state of confusion.

After mistakenly killing his boss (don’t ask…), he meets up with a strange, apparently homeless woman at a nearby coffee shop who keeps telling him that the two of them are real and everyone else is just imagined. (Or is she his wife and professional partner? It depends on which reality you believe.) They hide out in a tent city under a bypass in Los Angeles.

In the female lead role, Salma Hayek brings what little life and humor to Bliss that it can muster up. It rather leads you to wish that this mysterious stranger (or is she a stranger?) was the main focus of the film, not Wilson’s anonymous office drone. (Or is he a famous, cutting-edge brain specialist? Who knows?)

In the meantime, Owen’s character’s daughter is scouring the dangerous streets of skid row, looking for her father, who she is afraid is having a mental breakdown. As are we all. Of course, part of the ambiguity in this frustrating film is that Wilson’s character isn’t sure if the daughter is real, or merely a figment of his imagination.

I won’t even get into the strange brain box and the entire alternate reality. At that point, I was pretty much checked out.

I suppose you have to give Bliss credit for not being cookie cutter. It had a lot of ideas and the bravery (foolishness?) to go out on some pretty insane narrative limbs. I just wish they were more intriguing. In a world where nothing really seems to make sense, how are we supposed to make any sense of it? More importantly, why would we really want to try? I know in the long run, I found Bliss more annoying than blissful.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: February 5, 2021.


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