REVIEW: ‘Bliss’ breaks down due to story, pacing issues

During my viewing of “Bliss,” I was starting to have flashbacks of 2019’s “Serenity,” another January release. At the very least, “Bliss” is better than that feature, but only slightly so.

Owen Wilson plays Greg in “Bliss,” a man who seems to be lost in thoughts of a dream home while at work. Unfortunately, his lack of attention ends with him being fired from his position. Not long after, he finds himself in a bar with Isabel (Salma Hayek), a woman who informs him that she can manipulate reality around them.

She’s able to do this because, according to her, the world they’re living in isn’t actually a real one. Basically, Isabel says the simulation theory is real and what she and Greg are in is an artificial reality. With this new information, Greg begins being pulled in two directions, and has difficulty in determining what’s real and what’s not.

The concept of characters existing in an artificial simulation is nothing new to cinema, and some filmmakers have really made impressive work with the premise, such as “The Matrix” and “Inception.” However, “Bliss” doesn’t join those ranks.

The movie is awkwardly paced, with the first half coming across as rushed. Greg is brought into this seemingly strange reality and he accepts it rather quickly. The movie doesn’t give his exploration of this information enough time to really breathe. Then, in the second half, it feels like things slow down when it should be picking up.

The movie feels, at times, a bit aimless, too. Greg’s growing fascination and eventual understanding of his situation isn’t explored enough at an intimate level to be a character study. Instead, it’s just Greg and Isabel somewhat meandering from place to place.

Courtesy Amazon Prime.

Where writer/director Mike Cahill’s film really stumbles, though, is in its execution of the big twist. In a film like this, ambiguity plays a big role, as it can help keep an audience guessing on what’s real and what’s not. When the film gets to its conclusion, it seemingly loses its ambiguity, and as a result, isn’t as mind-bending as one would like.

Instead, the film’s climax goes into a more allegorical direction, and in the process, comments on issues such as substance abuse and homelessness. These are important issues and it’s commendable to platform them with a film, yet in doing so, “Bliss” only has more inconsistencies.

Acting wise, Wilson and Hayek are fine. Wilson has a sort of starry-eyed amazement to what he learns and it makes his character fairly endearing. Hayek, meanwhile, is fine in giving her character a believable level of confidence.

The dialogue they have to work with leaves something to be desired, though. There are times when it feels like characters are just explaining things to the audience rather than having real discussions.

Cahill was creative with this, and for that, deserves credit. There are good ideas at play and the acting is fine. However, the execution was off with this one, which is unfortunate, because it feels like this was close to being better. 1.75 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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