'Bliss' Review — A Miserable Experience
I had an art project due on the night of my screener, but I decided to postpone my work on that to watch this film early. Looking back, I would have just worked on my art project.
From writer/director Mike Cahill comes Bliss, a science fiction film starring Owen Wilson as Greg Wittle, a recently divorced man who gets fired from his job. He is soon approached by a woman named Isabel (Salma Hayek), who convinces him that the world he is living in is a stimulation.
A common trend I’ve noticed in film reviews is how often critics (myself included) compare new releases to older, superior films. For example, my recent review of The Little Things features a comparison to Se7en, as do many other reviews. It’s unfortunate how original ideas are scarce these days, so I’ll just get my comparison out of the way: The Matrix.
There are ideas in this film that feel ripped directly out of The Matrix, but the difference between the two is how The Matrix is an exciting, well-directed action epic, while this is a bland, uneventful film without a single fresh idea that ends up more frustrating than entertaining.
While the opening few minutes give us a nice hook with the direction and how it sets up the protagonist of Greg, a man who is trying to be a good father to his graduating daughter. This is the most compelling aspect of his character, but after Greg gets fired from his job and Isabel approaches him in a bar, the film goes downhill fast.
Once Greg and Isabel meet, we immediately have a problem; Hayek and Wilson share zero onscreen chemistry. They feel less like a believable duo and more like a studio assembling two random celebrities and throwing them together in a film.
Even worse, the two characters fall into a romantic relationship within the first thirty minutes of the movie. The pacing is completely off, and Cahill spends almost no time setting up the love story because when we have a male and female star in a film, they’re always destined to be together.
It’s unbelievable that the two characters would stir up a romance within hours of meeting each other, but as the story continues, the explanation for this is revealed. Telekinesis plays a role in the story, and it is executed incredibly poorly. Greg masters his telekinetic abilities right away, robbing his character of any reason to root for him.
The reason audiences root for heroes is because they fail; they have flaws, and we want them to grow and succeed as a result. But as a character, Greg serves as both a Gary Stu and a humorless Bruce Almighty. As the film goes on, it just gets more and more dreadful, with characters walking around aimlessly with no goal or mission.
Much of the film genuinely feels like a first draft, breaking so many screenwriting norms that make a film good. While screenwriters should not be afraid to break the rules, Cahill does a terrible job of it, giving our heroes no goal to strive towards and robbing the story of a ticking clock or any tension.
This is a movie where two characters walk around with no goal in sight. It’s not entertaining; it is drab and mind-numbing, and the film lacks any inventive ideas. The movie introduces a concept of an FGP, which stands for Fake Generated Person. This is such a stupid term! Don’t “fake” and “generated” mean the same thing in this context? Why do you need both?
Furthermore, the character relationships are not fleshed out, nor do they go to many dramatic places. Isabel is such a half-baked, uninteresting character with a vague job and backstory. The characters don’t work because of how woefully miscast Hayek and Wilson feel in their roles.
The weak characters can’t support the even weaker storyline in this film. As the title would suggest, this movie is about bliss, but bliss doesn’t allow for an investing narrative. The characters have nothing to overcome because of the bliss their utopian society offers.
Conflict is a key aspect of any story. When nothing in a film goes wrong, there is nothing to care about. That is what makes this film so boring; for much of the first two acts, everything goes well, and with no obstacles for Greg or Isabel to overcome, watching the film becomes a miserable experience.
The pacing in this film is a complete mess, with stretches that feel too slow juxtaposed with sections that are too fast. There is no subtlety in the film’s themes on poverty and environmentalism, with an extra actually screaming, “POVERTY’S KILLING US!”
While the film features a beautiful utopia, the only utopia I can imagine is one where this movie actually has something to offer.
Grade: ★☆☆☆☆ [2/10, D-]
Rating: R for drug content, language, some sexual material, and violence