The Trouble With Bliss: Film Review

"The Trouble With Bliss"
Like its slacker main character, this quirky indie comedy doesn’t make much of an effort.

Michael C. Hall stars as a soul-searching middle aged man in this off-beat comedy.

The Trouble With Bliss demonstrates that actor Michael C. Hall is far more convincing as a serial killer than a slacker. The Dexter star gives it his all in this indie comedy about a 35-year-old unemployed man coping with various romantic and life crises, but by the end of this terminally cute effort you’ll wish that he just stop moping and kill somebody already.

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Based on Douglas Light’s "East Fifth Bliss" -- the latest example of the sort of acclaimed novel that inevitably attracts filmmakers but doesn’t successfully make the transition to the big screen — the story concerns the ironically named Morris Bliss (Hall), whose life is anything but. Still living at home with his grumpy, widowed father (Peter Fonda, who at least gets to sit down a lot), he seems to have no career prospects despite being clearly intelligent and well-read.

Bliss has stopped trying, as evidenced by the map in his bedroom studded with pins on the locales he’d someday like to visit but never seems to get to. But despite his completely passive demeanor and slovenly appearance he’s quite the chick magnet--he’s newly involved with a sexy high school girl (Brie Larson) who he’s desperately hoping is at least the eighteen-years-old she claims to be. Further complicating things is the fact that she’s the daughter of his old high school buddy, “Jetski” (Brad William Henke), who’s significantly larger than him. 

Bliss is also apparently irresistible to his sexy married neighbor (Lucy Liu), whose invitation to participate in a salsa tasting focus group is merely a prelude to her aggressive romantic pursuit.    

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Although there are numerous subplots and such supporting characters as Bliss’ eccentric, revolutionary-minded best friend (Chris Messina), very little of interest actually happens during the meandering proceedings. Director Michael Knowles--working from a screenplay he co-wrote with novelist Light—fails to provide a consistent stylistic tone to the proceedings which at times uncomfortably border on slapstick.

Although his natural charisma inevitably shines through, Hall is ultimately unable to make his care about the recessive character. Ironically, and much like in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, it’s the underage love interest, played by up-and-comer Larson (21 Jump Street), who proves the most compelling figure. Fonda, displaying gravitas and sly humor, and Liu, appealing and funny, both offer sterling support. But despite their efforts, The Trouble With Bliss, as evidenced by its punning title, feels far too pleased with itself.

Opens March 23 (Variance Films)
Production: 7A Productions
Cast: Michael C. hall, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Brad William Henke, Sarah Shahi, Peter Fonda, Lucy Liu
Director/editor: Michael Knowles
Screenwriters: Douglas Light, Michael Knowles
Producers: John Ramos, Michael Knowles, John Will
Executive producers: Alex Balandin, Jon Finkel, Chuck and Nita Goodgal, Bruce and Victoria Rogoff, Dong-Chen Tsai, David E. Price, Brady Richter, Eric Strong
Director of photography: Ben Wolf
Production designer: Lucio Seixas
Costume designer: Amy C. Bradshaw
Music: Daniel Alcheh
Not rated, 97 mins.