Movies with mind-bending stories can usually go one of two directions: Either everything accompanying the story is so compelling that it doesn’t matter if the entire plot makes sense, or the story is so confusing that it overwhelms everything else in the film. It comes down to the talents of the people behind the camera in making a coherent whole out of incomprehensible parts.
The new film Bliss falls squarely in the second category of mind-bending movies, as not one second of it makes a lick of sense. The story centers on Greg (Owen Wilson), who (maybe) works for a soulless company called Technical Difficulties. Following a random and (maybe) tragic incident, Greg encounters Isabel (Salma Hayek) in a nearby bar, who tells him that the two of them are the only real people in a world that’s actually a computer simulation.
She proves this to him by showing how they can control things with just their minds, although to enhance this ability, they have to take mysterious yellow pills. As Greg falls deeper into Isabel’s world, he falls further away from what had been his reality, including his relationship with his daughter, Emily (Nesta Cooper), who seems to be constantly on the hunt for him.
Writer/director Mike Cahill goes down a number of different roads along the way and seems to have one very specific allusion in mind to tie everything together, but he never finds the right way to make the story work. He keeps upping the ante in terms of weirdness, but the story is never strong enough to care about the things Greg encounters, and the visuals aren’t fascinating enough to distract from the fact that the story is going nowhere.
There is allegedly a romantic angle to Greg and Isabel’s evolving relationship, but Cahill puts next to no effort in establishing any chemistry between the two characters. Even if a viewer were to somehow become invested in the two being a couple, the weird, haphazard nature of the story – Bill Nye the Science Guy makes an appearance in an actual acting role for some reason – prevents their love from becoming anything more than theoretical.
While Wilson and Hayek have each done good, award-worthy work in other films, their pairing here does not work at all. Neither of them can sell the script they’re required to perform, with most scenes coming off as them just saying words with no conviction.
Bliss is one of those films that wants to appear as if it has big ideas, but it actually has nothing to say. Instead of being a mind-bending movie with purpose, it’s a mind-numbing puzzle that’s missing half its pieces.
Bliss is available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.