Bliss – Starring Owen Wilson and Selma Hayek (2021) – An Honest Review
Posted On February 5, 2021
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Amazon produced movie. Warning, spoilers follow.
The Plot:A troubled man with nothing to live for (Owen Wilson) and a pretty obvious prescription drug problem meets a homeless woman (Selma Hayek) who tells him that the world around him is all an illusion and they are actually rich and famous scientists in an alternate world on a sort of dirty mental vacation/experiment. The two embark on a drug fueled crime spree while the lines between reality and fiction blur.
Casting: I really liked the casting on this. Hayek as a delusional and spun-out homeless woman who turns tricks, kills people, and makes elaborate hand motions to affect reality was particularly good. Wilson as a dude who doesn’t understand what is happening is perfect. How could that not be perfect? He also carries off the homeless drug addict thing perfectly. Both were completely believable in their roles. The strange casting choice was having Bill Nye as an influential scientist in the other world – I can see where they were going with it – maybe a way to show that the other world was a delusion (Nye appears in the real world on his show in an earlier scene), but in general – it was a distraction and didn’t work. It cheapened the entire production. The inclusion of two multi-racial kids from Wilson’s failed marriage was a necessary anchor to keep Wilson grounded in ‘our’ world – but didn’t have enough background to create an actual emotional investment on the part of the viewer. The daughter’s (Nesta Cooper) performance was good but limited by the script and lack of background, the son didn’t need to be in the script at all.
What I liked: This film played on something that I’ve experienced and sometimes felt alone in. Obviously, the author (Mike Cahill) of this story has the same experience which he writes for his character. For years, I’ve had these incredibly realistic dreams of a place and people that simply don’t exist but in my head – they feel real. I can navigate their memory as well as the places and people I’ve actually met in the past. I know these are dreams but they have a tangible feeling that at some times in my life have left me to ponder if they are in some way real. Wilson’s character has taken the step further – he has drawn them – his house, the peninsula it is on, his dream wife – he has made them that much more real. When we meet him in the story, he is already withdrawn from our world so much that his fantasy drawn world feels more inhabited by him than the office he is working in.
I also appreciated Cahill’s portrayal of homeless people and those living in the weeds. As someone who has tread on that part of our existence, I felt like he captured the essence of the people who exist on his character’s periphery. Homeless people are frequently not wallowing in their condition – that would make existing a near impossibility. The homeless people I have known and liked – have taken a sort of adventurely and proud stance in regards to their situation. This is a really hard thing for normies to understand. I once marched through Vancouver, Washington in the rain with a drunken hobo called ‘The Duck’ – he was like some proud general planning tactics for getting his daily meal and wine even as he pissed all over himself. He may have been some sad sack of a human being living in the dregs of society – but he didn’t see himself that way and when allowed to share how he saw himself, he displayed himself more like Washington crossing the Potomac than like a drunk bum covered in piss and dirt. Several decades ago, I spent the day drinking in Seattle with a part time prostitute named Mary Jane – we were pathetic to anyone who saw us! However, from our perspective – we were two heroic figures making our way through the world and making it call us by name. I’ve read some really negative reviews about Bliss – but my guess is that those reviewers were unable to appreciate the level of existence that Cahill shares through his characters.
While I’ve never been a drug addict – I think that Bliss is probably a pretty accurate portrayal of the descent from decency to living in a garbage heap while those around you lose hope of ever being able to rescue you.
What I didn’t like: As mentioned before, I think the entire film could have been more powerful if we were given a more cohesive picture of Wilson’s background – where he was and how he began his descent. We could have been shown a short 3-minute-reel of Wilson graduating, falling in love, getting a job, having kids, going on a ski trip, getting injured, getting hooked on prescription drugs, marriage failing, losing hope – and then the opening scene of him ‘taking the day off’ in his office. That grounding would have made the whole film more of an emotional journey. Instead we get a picture on his desk, a disembodied call with his daughter, and a not particularly believable scene with a grabby coworker who mocks him and grabs the pictures he is drawing on his desk. We get a stilted dialogue with a boss who apparently shares an executive bathroom. We get an accidental death where Wilson’s character doesn’t even consider seeing if his boss might be alive or telling someone there was an accident but instead goes to the bar across the street where he meets Hayek. All of this was sloppy and not endearing.
I didn’t like the less than 3-dimensional characters in the alternate world and was bothered by a couple of the interactions in the ‘real’ world – notably the glaring old lady in the ice rink. This felt more important than it ended up being.
Finally, I would have really liked to have more resolution as to the real world near the end and then – a huge mindfuck with the alternate world making an appearance so that I was left wondering “Whoa, was the real world the alternate world all along?” Great examples of that come from Total Recall and Christopher Nolan’s work.
Overall: This is a good film that could have been better but it is more worthwhile than 90% of what I’ve seen released in the past couple of years.