Bliss (2021)

Written & Directed by Mike Cahill

As a film critic, I watch a ton of movies. And honestly it’s my favorite thing to just watch movies. It doesn’t matter what genre, what era, what language, just put it in front of me and I’ll watch it. It doesn’t even matter to me if it’s a not good movie. And while there is certainly a part of the movie spectrum which moves into the “so bad it’s good” (i.e. entertaining) range, it’s usually the zone right before that where the movie is so bad, it’s just bad and hard to watch. People avoid these movies like the plague, but whenever I come across one, I try to embrace the experience. I have long made the claim, and I’m not alone in saying, the bad puts the good into context. How can we possibly appreciate a good movie if we have nothing to compare it to? I’ve gone through stretches of watching a ton of really good movies that the ones in that set that aren’t quite as good start to seem average, or bad. They’re not, and cleansing the palate with a bad movie can be very refreshing. Well, Bliss posits the opposite. It’s hypothesis is that in order to appreciate the bad, you have to experience the good. Um, what? Anyway, this movie is bad.

Greg (Owen Wilson) is up to here (imagine me raising my hand fairly high) with his life. Unfulfilled in his job and his life, he dreams by sketching mock-ups of his dream home. Greg is called into his boss’s office, where he is told he’s being fired. He quickly flees the scene for a drink at a nearby bar where he meets Isabel (Salma Hayek), a bizarre but convincing woman who pulls Greg along with her to a seedy neighborhood where she exposes Greg to crystals which unlock the reality he fails to see. Opened up to this brand new world, Greg is transported to what Isabel claims is the “real world”, a paradise where the two of them are in love, living in his dream house from the sketches, and Isabel is a renowned doctor working on a concept called “Brain Box”, which allows the residents of this paradise to be transported to the slums of the world to better appreciate how good they have it. Having left his family behind on this odyssey, Greg’s daughter and son begin to search for him, hoping to return him to his natural state.

In some twisted fantasy, I think this movie is supposed to be about appreciating our own crappy lives by seeing the dream and realizing it’s hollow and incomplete when we’re not with family. It seems completely earnest about it’s idea that we must experience the good to better appreciate the bad, and not the other way around. And while there is certainly some validity to seeking a way to experience joy and happiness even when everything around you is not peachy, Mike Cahill’s film is just not a good hang. It takes so many narrative leaps that seem unnecessary and unrealistic. The blurring of reality and imagination seems clear on the surface, but perhaps Cahill has built in some subconscious genius that is not readily apparent. It essentially boils down to the fact that Greg is depressed, does some drugs, and comes out the other end enlightened by the fact that it can’t be all bad because he has his son and daughter to think about. It’s cliché, and it’s done in such an obvious, overt way to spoil any intrigue throughout the film.

Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek are mostly fine in the lead roles, but bring nothing special to add to the table, and even Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) makes a cameo appearance for no reason whatsoever (does this mean the film is science approved?). It’s not a long film, but I couldn’t help but ask myself about midway through the film what had even happened so far. Nothing happens for such long stretches of time, and even when we finally get a peak behind the curtain of paradise, for instance, it largely a letdown. The film plays with some large ideas, but does so in such a mediocre fashion, choosing to only scratch the surface and never give the viewer any depth of detail or sense of reason. Maybe Mike Cahill just played the biggest meta-trick on us all: creating a movie about how you have to experience the good to appreciate the bad, that itself is so bad it makes us appreciate the good. But honestly, that would be giving Bliss waaaaay too much credit. And even if that’s the case, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a bad, uninteresting, unentertaining movie.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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