Film Review: The Trouble with Bliss

Indie pap, populated by determinedly eccentric characters you don’t give a toss about.

Thirty-five-year-old New Yorker Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall) leads the ultimate loser life, living with his abusive, alcoholic widowed father Seymour (Peter Fonda). Haunted by his dead mother and with no money or job, he aimlessly slacks around town, but this dearth of assets doesn’t prevent women from throwing themselves at him, like 18-year-old Stephanie (Brie Larson), whose father, troublesomely enough, happens to be a former classmate of Morris, Steven “Jetski” Jouseski (Brad William Henke), and his aggressive neighbor Andrea (Lucy Liu), who already has a scary muscle-bound partner she is bent on making jealous. Then there is Morris’ buddy NJ (Chris Messina), fanatically devoted to overthrowing Third World governments.

Director Michael Knowles adapted the screenplay for The Trouble with Bliss from Douglas Light’s novel, with the help of Light himself, but nothing onscreen registers with any kind of literary distinction. Why, exactly, we are supposed to care about Morris’ life unraveling due to the collisions of these various personalities is a mystery, as this spineless protagonist remains desperately uninteresting throughout. Hall, who has shown that he can illuminate quirky characters in his past work, is utterly defeated here. (It doesn’t help that he is given to calling his father “Daddy.”) Everyone he encounters behaves with such strenuous eccentricity that they cancel one another out and merely induce viewer fatigue, when not overtly annoying you.

For all the sex that’s depicted here, the film isn’t very sexy. Larson throws herself voraciously into the role of Stephanie, wriggling suggestively in her Catholic schoolgirl uniform, and emerges as a manic variation on a faded antediluvian hetero-male fantasy. Likewise a man-eater type, Liu comes off as shrill and abrasive. (“Having trouble getting it in?” is her lame come-on line to Morris, struggling his door key.) Henke is beginning to seem too familiar already from his many indie appearances and Messina is merely irritating, but Fonda manages to convey some respectable gravitas under the circumstances, perhaps basing his frigidly distant character on his own father, Henry. (It is to be remembered that he titled his autobiography Don’t Tell Dad).