By Mark Saldana

Rating: 1.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Bliss’s tagline, “Chase Something Real,” invites the audience to follow its protagonist on a soul-searching journey as he attempts to define what is very real to him. However, the film unintentionally has the audience trying to make sense of a poorly developed concept, ambiguously confusing plot development, and some heavy-handed delivery with its messages. Writer/director Mike Cahill attempts a mind-bending exercise with his existential crisis movie Bliss, but mostly succeeds in bewilderment, frustration, and annoyance.

Owen Wilson stars as Greg Whittle, a depressed and dissatisfied regular guy, lost and frustrated with the cards life has dealt him. While trying to hold down a soul-crushing job, Greg constantly dreams of and vividly envisions a life he wishes he had or should be having. The only thing that brings Greg joy and happiness is the unconditional love of his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper). On one particular day when everything seems to go wrong, Greg encounters an alluring, but unusual stranger named Isabel (Salma Hayek). At the beginning of their seemingly fateful meeting, Isabel tries to convince Greg that most of what is around them is artificial and that he is trying to live in an artificial simulation where he doesn’t truly belong. Though this idea initially doesn’t make sense to Greg, Isabel convinces him otherwise. As what is real and isn’t becomes more clear to him, Greg also begins to question whether or not the “real world” is actually a better place.

Even though writer/director Mike Cahill has an initially fascinating and inventive take on the virtual reality, science fiction story, his underdeveloped ideas and attempts to keep his audience in suspense and guessing ultimately fail. Deeply philosophical exercises in existentialism can be challenging when it comes to cinema. Ambiguity and misdirection can be effective on audiences, if performed meticulously, but Cahill’s heavy-handed strategy comes across as a slap to the face. It is like having a bad teacher that presents a student a problem or dilemma with a lot of confusing information and instructs the student to figure it out, while screaming the answer into his or her ear.

As far as the acting is concerned, Owen Wilson seems to be totally on board for the ride and works his charisma well. However, his dedication and assured approach to the character never truly reassures. Salma Hayek, who protrays the one character who supposedly knows exactly what is happening, adds further to the frustration with this movie. Her acting choices here simply grate and frustrate. As physically attractive as she is, her take on the character nullifies any physical beauty and charisma she naturally exudes.

Bliss will be available for streaming via Amazon Prime on February 5, 2021, but it is a film I simply do not like and cannot recommend. Perhaps the studio and the filmmakers hope that people ignorantly go into this movie without question, but I do hope that my readers understand now that any ignorance about this movie does not offer any bliss whatsoever. Chase a better movie, please!

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