Some films bring together ideas and actors that are an incredible draw. I’ve rarely been disappointed with any movie that Salma Hayek stars in and I’ve always found Owen Wilson to be likable in his roles. The plot is fantastical and mind-bending, a story that makes the audience question what is reality and had me intrigued from the beginning. By the end of my viewing, I found Owen Wilson in one of his best performances, Salma Hayek brilliant, and the film rich with ideas and a surreal quality leaving as many questions at the end of the movie as at the beginning.
Bliss a sci-fi film directed and written by Mike Cahill, stars Owen Wilson as Greg, a man recently divorced with two children he misses dearly but with a life that seems to be slowly unraveling. He spends his time in his office drawing pictures of his dream house, trying to get refills for pills, and when called to a meeting with his boss, getting distracted. Eventually, he goes to meet with the man only to find out he’s fired. From there, he goes to a bar across the street where he meets a strange woman, Isabel (Salma Hayek). Isabel lives on the streets and is convinced that the world around them is a complex computer simulation. Greg doubts her at first but is drawn to her passion, spending time with her in drug-filled bliss and eventually discovering there is truth to Isabel’s wild conspiracy.
Bliss is one of those films with layers upon layers of thoughts and ideas. I could probably watch it ten times and not catch all the nuances. From the beginning, you have questions, about Greg, his place, what he is doing and thinking. As you meet Isabel, the questions continue as you try to figure out what is real and what is not. Isabel teaches Greg to push people with his mind and we see demonstrations of this but is it all a drug-filled hallucination or is it real? Even when Greg feels like he has confirmations of the truth, believes Isabel, and lives in what he is told is the real world, there is still some doubt. Part of this is the way the film is written, in ways that illustrate multiple interpretations. If you believe in computer simulations, you might believe that Greg is in one but in the end, what kind of world Greg is in doesn’t matter as much as his journey and his ability to be at peace with his surroundings, to accept himself and the choices he’s made in his life, to find a way to connect with those around him, to find love, and to appreciate the little joys around us.
There are some incredible nuances, not just to the story but also to the filming. The special effects help to illustrate the world Greg is in. The effect of Greg and Isabel throwing people around sells the possibility of the world being an illusion. There is a light and clarity to the screen when they’re both in what appears to be the real world but there is also a grittiness when the pair are on the streets. The effects are incredible when the two worlds bleed together and even in the beginning of the film, there are subtle touches that hint to Greg’s state of mind and provide clues to the conclusion of the movie.
What truly sells the film for me, though, is the acting. Owen Wilson has one of his best performances. His ability to convey a sense of sadness and lost quality to the character is integral to the story as he follows Isabel, attempting to find his way. Yet, his ability to find joy is also in evidence and he truly has his finest moments as he discovers acceptance and joy in his world, connecting with his daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper). His ability to demonstrate a connection to the characters in the film is part of what drives this movie and his chemistry with Salma Hayek is intense, the pair so believable as soul mates. Salma Hayek is brilliant as Isabel, walking a fine line between crazy and passionate. In one scene she appears out of her mind but in the next, she is sane and driven. That talent is part of what adds dimension and layers to the film and keeps the audience guessing.
While the film is not perfect and there are moments when you are wildly trying to figure out what is going on, it is those moments that make this movie so good. You ask is this a drug-fueled hallucination or is Isabel telling the truth? Ultimately, Greg asks the same questions as the viewer and has to choose if he wants his family or the fantastical, beautiful perfect world that Isabel shows him. And while I won’t tell you which he chooses, I found his choice poignant and joyful. And you do have to pay attention to small details or you will miss key elements.
If you enjoy Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek, I think you will enjoy this film. You ask a lot of questions and the film doesn’t answer all of them but I enjoyed that unwillingness to show the viewer the answer because the writer trusts us to come to our own conclusions and find our own answers. While it is surreal and sometimes odd, the messages I found are beautiful as are the characters. If you enjoy love stories, families, and connections, you will want to connect to this movie.
4.5 worlds out of 5.
Bliss will release exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on February 5th