Judge Gordon Sullivan thinks his bliss is under a sofa cushion.
One of the chief dangers of being a good actor with a strong role is being typecast, especially if you ever play an archetypal role. The temptation—most evident in child actors shucking off youthful roles—is to do as much work as possible away from that role to avoid cementing yourself. Michael C. Hall undoubtedly knows this difficulty. His first major break was a role in Six Feet Under, and he avoided being typecast in that role by immediately diving into Dexter, which made him an even bigger star. Now, though, he has to worry about getting stuck playing serial killers, Anthony Perkins-style. Perhaps that explains his participation in The Trouble with Bliss, a well-stocked but clichéd literary adaptation that finds Hall playing an overgrown man-child. Fans of the actor might appreciate his turn here, but most viewers have seen this kind of thing before.
Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall) is a thirty-five-year-old guy who still lives with his father (Peter Fonda, Easy Rider) in NYC. His life is going nowhere, and yet he's got the attention of eighteen-year-old Stephanie (Brie Larson, 21 Jump Street)—the daughter of a high school friend—and his married neighbor Andrea (Lucy Liu, Charlie's Angels). Their simultaneous affections push Morris into self-realization.
I have serious trouble understanding just whose fantasy The Trouble with Bliss really is. I understand that Michael C. Hall is an attractive man who many people lust after—that I get. However, he becomes, I think, infinitely less appealing when he's thirty-five, doesn't have a decent job, still lives with his father, and has no real ambitions. Sure he's a nice enough guy, I guess, but it's pure wish fulfillment to imagine that this guy is going to be attractive to not only an eighteen-year-old girl but also his married older neighbor. Somehow, with no money and no prospects, it all works out.
There are some hints here and there—like the fact that Stephanie is a bit of a stalker instead of the perfect nymphet—that we're meant to take The Trouble with Bliss as a bit of a joke, as a parody or send-up of the attractive man-child subgenre. If so, it's the gentlest, kindest send-up anyone ever made. The feeling of missed opportunity hangs over the whole film. With a little bit of digging (and a push against that PG-13 rating), the film might have been darkly funny or at least mildly provocative.
If we're not being that generous, The Trouble with Bliss is one cliché after another. Stephanie is pure manic-pixie-dream-girl, offering the perfect opportunity for Bliss to recapture his lost youth. Lucy Liu is the prototypical aggressive cougar, and Peter Fonda the curmudgeonly father-figure. A bunch of stuff happens to Bliss, none of it motivated by anything, and then he makes a major life decision at the end, allowing pretty much everything to work out perfectly.
In the film's defense, it isn't a bad film per se. The actors are all quite game and watching them can sometimes be enough to overcome the "been there, done that" vibe of the film's plot. The film—the third from director Michael Knowles—is put together well enough, including some interesting choices for camera angles and setting. The overall feeling isn't "this movie is bad" so much as "this movie could be so much better."
The DVD itself is pretty decent. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does fine with the HD shot material. Colors are bold, detail is strong, and the overall image looks clean and contemporary. No serious digital artefacts crop up to mar the image. The 5.1 audio track keeps dialogue clear in the front, with the surrounds used for the bouzouki-oriented score and some nominal atmospheric effects.
Extras kick off with a 13-minute interview with Michael C. Hall, who discusses the making of the film, his relationship with the director and his fellow cast members, as well as his interpretation of the character. It's fairly substantial, and his fans will appreciate it. There is also a set of pretty inconsequential deleted scenes, and the film's trailer.
The Trouble with Bliss is probably worth checking out for fans of Michael C. Hall or Lucy Liu, but the overall film is so full of trite wish fulfillment it's hard to give it any strong recommendation. Those who do enjoy the film can look forward to a decent DVD that gives the film a fine presentation with a few extras.
Guilty of finding its bliss a little too easily.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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