PLOT: After losing his job and a tragic encounter with his boss, a middle-aged man meets a strange woman who claims to possess special powers. Are her far-fetched fantasies reality? Or are there other influences leading the two on a dark and dangerous journey?
REVIEW: With only his second feature, filmmaker Mike Cahill garnered critical acclaim with his inventive 2011 indie favorite Another Earth. The fascinating sci-fi drama created an intriguing balance between reality and fantasy. And now, he’s back with yet another story that blurs the lines, and it’s one that is hauntingly unnerving while occasionally messy and convoluted. The film stars Owen Wilson as a man dealing with a few terrible decisions that have made his life far more complicated than it should be. He co-stars with Salma Hayek who portrays a strange woman who is either crazy or a genius. With this mind-bending adventure, Cahill attempts to explore different avenues, all wrapped up in this odd little feature that will delight some yet confound others.
Owen Wilson is Greg, a miserable man who has lost connection with his family, aside from his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper). Things get even more out of control for him after a tragic event leaves him out of a job and a possible murder suspect. While drinking his problems away at a local bar, he meets Isabel Clemens (Hayek), a woman who appears to possess special powers. Soon, Greg is on the run with Isabel, but their current adventure through the bleak and terrible world surrounding them is only part of the story. What transpires is a wild, drug-induced journey that may or may not be real. It is one that blurs the line between Greg’s reality and the world that Isabel claims is awaiting them.
BLISS is a strange cinematic experience, one that is likely to be a bit divisive for some. Cahill is eager to explore many possibilities in this bizarre feature. Instead of committing to a science fiction landscape, the filmmaker explores many real-life issues. Whether it’s homelessness, mental illness, anxiety, or addiction, he brings all of this to the forefront while still exploring the fantastical – such as the reality of the world around us. Often these grand ideas work rather well. While it certainly deals with relevant concepts, they don’t always work in the context of what’s happening to Greg and Isabel. By bringing so many thoughts to the forefront, the film occasionally feels slightly convoluted. However, if you’re willing to accept the world it creates, you’re likely to enjoy the experience it brings.
It’s always interesting to see Owen Wilson go against the norm, and his performance here is terrific. The same is especially true for Ms. Hayek. It is Salma who perhaps has the more challenging role. The two actors work well together to form a believable bond, even when the tales she tells him are far too outlandish at face value. With Wilson playing a man at his end, the actor brings a necessary vulnerability to his role. For Hayek, the actress has the opportunity to take Isabel in many directions. It’s near impossible to fully understand her character until the second half of the film. Yet thankfully, she fearlessly tackles the role and manages to bring a believable mix of insane to her warm and understanding soul.
For Greg, we learn very little about the life before. We meet his grown children, played by Nesta Cooper and Jorge Lendeborg Jr., yet we don’t get a clear picture of what happened to this family. The implications are there, but Cahill purposefully leaves much of that out. This works in the film’s favor for the most part. The less we know about Greg’s life before Isabel, the more curious we are about who he is. What may have happened is mostly obvious, but we don’t get a full sense of the family he once had. Perhaps this would have raised the emotional level of the story. Even still, once the final act arrives, there’s enough there to give the audience a generally satisfying experience.
Bliss can be magical, but it may not always rise to the heights of the complex tale it attempts to weave together. Even still, there is so much to admire, especially from the impressive work from both Wilson and Hayek. Mike Cahill’s ambitious project may not be perfect, but the many ideas it explores make it difficult to dismiss. There’s nothing safe about it, and you have to respect the mission behind this unique experience of a motion picture. The feature will work with fans who willfully accept the crazy ideas presented in this sci-fi fantasy. Those same ideas are likely to frustrate audiences with the occasional over-the-top theatrics. With its current release on Amazon Prime, it’s well worth taking in for yourself to see where you fall on this challenging and unique feature.