"Rather than provide audiences with a character based sci-fi, we are given a complex plot with little to grasp on to"
The rejuvenation of Owen Wilson’s career is underway. The once typecast romantic comedy lead is now proving his dramatic acting ability, this time in Bliss, Amazon’s mind-bending sci-fi drama. Bliss aims to make you re-examine reality and what it means to live but falls short. And although its portrayal of substance abuse is unique, the premise of the film is wasted as are the performances of Wilson and Hayek.
Wilson stars as Greg, a divorcee whose life is turned upside down when he meets the entrancing Isabel, played by Salma Hayek. The action begins abruptly, giving no time to get to know the characters. Viewers are thrust into the story, without having a moment to collect their thoughts. The script seems to misinterpret what needs to be prioritised. What could have been a thought-provoking exploration of addiction becomes distracted by its own intricacies. More time is spent fleshing out the worldbuilding and convoluted story, meaning the characters become distant and any emotional impact that should be had is lost. The chemistry between Hayek and Wilson is palpable, but the two are often forced to carry the film on their shoulders, yet by the end of the film you cannot remember the characters’ names as they were not given adequate development. Wilson’s performance in particular deserves praise. He showcased a tremendous range, which moviegoers can look forward to seeing from him in the future.
The plot of the film is hard to grasp, and for the most part that is intentional. Writer and director Mike Cahill takes a brutal real-life issue like substance abuse and tries to weave it into this complex tale. For the majority of the film, you are questioning what is real and what is not, just like protagonist Greg. This is achieved through interesting details upending normality in Greg’s alternate reality, where drug fuelled notions are presented as intellectual discourse. While atmospheric, this unpredictability is not beneficial. Cahill makes the film too clever for its own good, forgetting the foundations of the story. Bliss feels rushed, as if this is merely a draft of the script, which with more development would have been a genuinely intriguing film. There are moments which will have you scratching your head in confusion, not because of the story, which despite its complexities is quite easy to follow, but because of the lack of character development.
On the technical side of things, Bliss is undeniably impressive. The editing, cinematography, makeup, and costume design add weight and depth to the story, creating distinct colour palettes which are effectively used to help the viewer distinguish fantasy from reality. One example is Wilson’s appearance noticeably deteriorating through the course of the film, reflecting his descent into addiction.
Bliss is a rushed, unsatisfying sci-fi with a fantastic concept. Bliss misses an opportunity to fully explore the humanity of a stigmatised underclass. Rather than provide audiences with a character based sci-fi we are given a complex plot, with little to grasp on to.
© 2021 Felix Baldassi-Winderlich