Review: The Trouble with Bliss
PLOT: Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall) is thirty-five years old, terminally unemployed, and still living with his disdainful father (Peter Fonda). Near the end of his rope, Bliss starts an affair with the eighteen-year-old daughter (Brie Larson) of a former high-school buddy.
REVIEW: I'm totally an indie guy. That much should be obvious, especially if you happened to follow my TIFF or Sundance coverage over the last few years. I'm thoroughly convinced that the best films of our generation will come from outside the mainstream- just like they did in the nineties. I love digging into the newest indie offerings, in the hope of finding a gem to share with folks. However, when you watch as many indies as I do, you're bound to find a few films that just meander, and don't work despite a self-conscious attempt to be “quirky”.
That's exactly the problem with THE TROUBLE WITH BLISS. There's just nothing going on here that you haven't seen a billion times before. A guy in his mid-thirties having an affair with a much younger woman? It's practically a hallmark of these types of films, going back to Woody Allen's MANHATTAN, and is examined in a mature, thoughtful way in the recent LIBERAL ARTS. In THE TROUBLE WITH BLISS, it's just a plot device used for what the filmmakers obviously hope will be quirky and comic, but just comes off as dull. The rest of the film isn't much better, with nothing here having the kind of poignancy that a film like this really needs to be anything less than tedious.
The chief problem is that the main character, Morris Bliss, is not someone worth spending ninety minutes with. Michael C. Hall, who's a champ on DEXTER (which, until recently- was a great show) gives it his all, but I really didn't feel invested in his character. He's portrayed as a total loser. If you want to portray a lovable loser, that's fine- just as long as you make him lovable (as in the recent JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME). Morris Bliss isn't even likable. Within five minutes, you won't give a toss about him or his “problems”, which seem to hinge on him being irresistible to women, and the fact that his father (who he annoyingly calls “daddy”) won't shell out more for his allowance. It's too bad that Hall, who was also great in SIX FEET UNDER, keeps getting stuck in these tepid indie vehicles. While not quite as bad PEEP WORLD, which was virtually unwatchable, BLISS isn't much better.
In addition to Hall, THE TROUBLE WITH BLISS features a lot of other folks who give it their all, but come off as cartoon characters rather than real people. Peter Fonda, as Hall's grumpy dad, is singularly unpleasant, although I'm sure the writers/director were probably going for curmudgeonly instead. Lucy Liu, as Hall's horny neighbour has virtually nothing to work with, and again comes off as a cartoon no more three-dimensional than the peripheral characters you'd find in the worst big-studio rom-com. Of them all, the only one who made an impression was Brie Larson as Hall's precocious, and possibly insane, eighteen-year-old girlfriend. Larson's really starting to come into her own these days, and I wouldn't be shocked to see her evolve into another Jennifer Lawrence before long.
Good as she is though, Larson's not enough to save THE TROUBLE WITH BLISS. I know I'm coming down hard on a film which was obviously a labour of love for all involved, but it just really grated on my nerves- in the same way similarly goofy indie comedies like SAINT JOHN OF LAS VEGAS did. I like the people involved, but the finished product? No thanks.