It’s hard to tell whether Mike Cahill‘s Bliss is a sci-fi drama or simply a wicked rom-com at least until half-way through the film. The film basically gives away the same promise his previous sci-fi dramas, Another Earth and I Origins, tries to deliver rather profoundly and philosophically albeit seeming comical at some intersections. This time, however, the premise ends up being more interesting than the actual film is—even when Salma Hayek‘s recently rare leading performance sparks some lights.
When Owen Wilson appears on screen looking bored and spiritless as Greg. Distressed by his ongoing divorce process, he keeps lollygagging at work and spends time doodling a highly specific dream house. Only when he accidentally kills his boss who just recently fired him, he seems to wake up from his daydreaming. At the same time, the poor man encounters Isabel (Hayek), a shamanistic figure who claims to possess telekinetic power to control reality. She doesn’t stop there; she will then share her belief that the world where they recently meet is a simulation. This is where things are getting interesting.
Bliss will eventually introduces some enigmatic, vibrant crystals that, according to Isabel, are able to transport them to the “real world” where they are couples—both are scientists working on state-of-the-art simulation technologies. This is not the freshest idea ever; and so did Cahill‘s previous works. The director will usually imbue the idea with on-the-nose philosophical ambition to expand the drama, not complicating it. However, Bliss seems like a different breed; the narrative tends to get jumpy and complicate things that shouldn’t need any more complications. There’s barely any answer to the question of “which reality is the real one?” even when the narrative occasionally offloads some clues that aren’t necessarily helpful. Greg and Isabel respectively have a thing or two to hold on in the reality they perceive to be the real one; and the plot affords those beliefs with stakes reflected in both worlds. It’s as if Cahill forces audiences to choose one reality among two and let the characters suffer with whatever consequences that play out in audiences’ mind.
Hayek’s dual-range performance and Wilson‘s surprisingly fine momentum coalesce into an odd couple, which might not work in any other film but this. Even so, their performances are far from saving this film from being dragged into the game it doesn’t know how to end. When Bliss claims to be a mind-bending story, parts of the claim might be right—not because of ambiguous clues that might suggest that both, imbalance realities co-exist, but because of the lack thereof.