A tedious 50 minutes into the movie (and as shown in the more exciting trailer), “Bliss” transports Isabel and Greg, via the inhalation of special blue crystals, to a different, more colorful, and sunnier existence. They wake up in a scientific space that’s like a resort lobby, and are hooked up to a giant box of floating brains called The Brain Box. This is the real world, Isabel tells him, and this is a machine she invented to get cynical people to appreciate how bad things can be. Greg doesn’t remember going into this simulation, so he doesn’t remember the history of this place, or that he’s actually married to Isabel, but he recognizes the location: it’s the beautiful lakeside paradise from his drawings. He almost doesn’t want to leave until he starts to see a silhouette of Emily, looking for her dad.
“Bliss” is far more kooky and tedious than it is good, and it’s so confusing that even the movie’s sense of humor is a question mark. At least we have the chemistry between Wilson and Hayek, who can render Cahill’s more baffling ideas of romance—knocking a bunch of people down at the roller rink—as movie-star indulgence instead of plainly odd. They’re both inspired casting choices, like how Wilson is more low-key and raggedy than normal, doing the most he can to fill a sorely needed backstory for poor ol’ Greg. And Hayek is even more game, leaning into Isabel’s pushiness with spontaneity and flair in the cloudier world, and positing her as a beacon of brilliance in the brighter one. Both of them are pushing themselves with this project, and to their credit neither of them are overshadowed by inexplicable cameos from Bill Nye the Science Guy and Slavoj Žižek the Philosophy Guy.
Cahill is one of the more bleeding-heart sci-fi writer/directors in the business, after “Another Earth” and “I Origins.” He doesn’t deal in twists but hopes of expanding perspective and connection—concepts that that are only slightly realized here, his most overwrought film. Some visual ideas work in “Bliss,” like when objects from opposite worlds start to overlap with flashing cuts, or the holographic people side-by-side with flesh-and-blood in the brighter world. The non-homeless world is also given a beautiful touch with a light filter that DP Markus Förderer invented for the movie, which turns white light into streaks of color. But instead of focusing on this world, or using more of these concepts, “Bliss” mostly gives us the trite ugliness of Greg’s main existence.