Writer/director Mike Cahill’s Bliss is a film which takes a big swing but ultimately never really delivers on its promise. That’s a shame because this Owen Wilson/Salma Hayek film drama features some intriguing concepts and a great straight turn from Wilson.
Greg (Wilson) has a broken family, a dead-end job and an addiction to prescription medicine. One of those goes out the window (literally) when he gets fired. He meets the homeless Isabel (Hayek) in a bar, who tells him that his life is a simulation which is meant to show ‘the real world’ how bad things can get. A sort of VR wake-up call to let you know how good your life is. Isabel takes Greg on a journey of discovery – but is her story actually true?
Cahill showed promise with 2011’s Another Earth and Bliss shares a similar aesthetic and tone to that film, but it also has hints of The Matrix, Fight Club, Inception and a billion other science fiction films. However, it’s not Bliss’ lack of originality which hinders it – the main issue is that it lacks focus. Cahill’s film doesn’t have any urgency, meandering when it should be moving with purpose. It takes a lot of concepts about reality and dreams and weaves them into a tapestry which never manages to coalesce. Bliss is a film which is almost about something.
The highlight of Bliss is Owen Wilson’s impressive performance. In the past films like The Minus Man and Behind Enemy Lines have shown that Wilson is a good actor who was sidetrack by a (very lucrative) career in comedy. He really rises to the challenge here. Hayek isn’t quite so successful, never finding the right tone in which to pitch her performance, therefore never coming across as a believable character.
A curiosity of a film that never manages to deliver, Bliss is an intriguing premise which is fumbled by its execution.