On the face of it, Bliss could – and, maybe, should – have worked. A unique, exciting premise from a director who has made a name for himself with other such films, starring two recognisable and likeable leads? Sounds like a worthwhile endeavour to us. That is, sadly, until we saw said movie and wondered how it could misfire so badly. There are lofty ideas enamoured into Bliss‘ DNA that are crying to make sense but sadly, no matter what thoughtful, interesting things it throws at us, none of them really stick and make for a frustrating watch.
The filmmaker at the helm Mike Cahill, who directed and co-wrote Another Earth and the underrated and underseen I, Origins (still criminally without a physical media release in the UK), both of which had the distinct similarities of being lofty in ambitions whilst on a budget. Still, his earnestness and original concepts made quite the splash so why wouldn’t he go even bolder with his third feature? He certainly does crank it up a level but unlike his previous effort, Bliss becomes so convoluted and nonsensical that it’s hard to keep up with it, or indeed care enough to do so. There’s much to admire but not much to back it up in terms of provoking or stimulating the brain as much as it hopes it would.
It starts strangely enough: in a drab, uninviting office, despondent worker Greg (Owen Wilson) dreams of more than what he is dealing with, recently separated and now summoned to his boss’ office for what he believes will end in his dismissal. Soon thereafter, he meets Israel (Salma Hayek), a mysterious, homeless-looking woman who seems to know who is and reveals that the world around him is merely an illusion, a simulation he is part of from the real world, where his real bliss lies.
Pretty grandiose ideas that we have seen before and done better (The Matrix, no doubt, will pop into many people’s minds when they read the above) and, while it attempts to bring a different slant to such themes and constructs, it struggles to make an impact, becoming almost incoherent come the final act that is infuriating and confusing.
Cahill’s vision should have been as refreshing and welcoming as his previous efforts, but there’s much missing here, an empty void that leaves us exhausted from its simulations. When we visit the “real world” it becomes clearer and settles into a nice rhythm, only to be undone as the realities begin to merge. Wilson and Hayek struggle wilfully through it all, but they too look as confused and anxious as we are watching it, almost begging to be unplugged. And, despite threatening to blossom, you will probably want to follow them.
Drama, Romance | USA, 2021 | 15 | 5th February 2021 | Prime Video | Dir.Mike Cahill | owen wilson, Salma Hayek, Nesta Cooper, Madeline Zima, DeRon Horton, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Joshua Leonard