The Trouble With Bliss
Starz / Anchor Bay // PG-13 // $14.98 // January 1, 2013
Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 9, 2013
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The tagline for The Trouble With Bliss promises "a comedic coming-of-age tale about a guy who should have come of age a long time ago." There was a time before the influence of Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow when that might've been an unremarkable pitch, but every other comedy out there seems to be about a guy, somewhere between 25 and 35, waiting for his life to blossom into something more than the menial existence they've been eking out for too long. Despite a talented cast, this is one of those "popular idea" conundrums: a movie that was likely financed because these kinds of "arrested development" comedies are currently successful, yet one that doesn't have any reason to exist in a marketplace full of similar movies.

The Bliss in the title belongs to Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall), a 35-year-old layabout still living at home with his grumpy, widowed father, Seymour (Peter Fonda). Morris has just unexpectedly found himself in a relationship with Stephanie (Brie Larson), an 18-year-old schoolgirl who reveals to Morris after they've slept together that he was friends with her father, "Jetski" (Brad William Henke) in high school. Morris wants to travel to all of the places he's read about in books, but his lack of a job and meek personality prevent him from living his dream. Instead, he hangs out with his friend N.J. (Chris Messina), a pathological liar who forces Morris to pay for beers, and tries to figure out how to keep his relationship with Stephanie going without Jetski ever finding out.

Despite a number of practical problems that Morris could learn to address, director / co-writer Michael Knowles doesn't have a firm grasp on how Morris needs to change. His job hunt, for instance, is never a significant part of the story, nor getting his own place. Although Morris' relatonship with Stephanie is probably unhealthy, it's not a point of "maturity," just a thread of comic mishaps, packed with misunderstandings and close-calls (as well as a gross, unnecessary gag where Seymour talks about seeing Stephanie walking down the stairs with no panties on and being able to smell her lady parts, before he has any idea that she and Morris know each other). Meanwhile, other oddball characters float in and out of Morris' life, like Lucy Liu as a neighbor who also wants to jump Morris' bones, or a woman who apparently poses as a homeless person in her free time (the character becomes slightly relevant, but her activities do not). Instead, Morris comments to Jetski that he's "waiting" for something, but he isn't sure what it is. Although apathy and wheel-spinning are probably a familiar feeling to many, this revelation feels less like an expression of an unexpressable feeling and more like Knowles and co-writer Douglas Light (who wrote the book the film was based on) shrugging their shoulders.

To add insult to injury, Morris hardly goes through a transformation. He continues lying to Jetski, continues to see Stephanie (and Liu's character Andrea), continues to not buy the groceries his father tells him to buy. Instead of filling the viewer in on why books and travel are so important to Morris (it seems to be implied that his mother was big on travel), Knowles offers us the strange visual metaphor of Morris' sleeping habits: in the film's first few scenes, Morris sleeps in his clothes, but as he's meant to be changing, he then takes his shirt off before wrapping himself in the top blanket, then finally takes his pants off too and gets into the bed at the end of the movie. Key information (like his father's emotional distance after Morris' mom died, or N.J.'s history as a liar) is withheld until the big scenes when that information is going to fuel a dramatic scene. Morris remains a passive character with colorful things happening to him and around him, despite the movie's suggestion that making a choice, any choice, is crucial in life.

The last scene of the movie is a nice summary of the problems with The Trouble With Bliss: after a series of blow-outs and revelations (during which Peter Fonda gives more than the movie deserves), the movie builds to a moment in which Morris is ready to take a step he hasn't really earned (fueled not by his own progress in the world, but seemingly by a combination of his own past irresponsibility and a stroke of pure luck), and he shares a moment with his father that only happens because Knowles artificially delaying that moment until the very end. Knowles and Light don't really seem to know what Morris is waiting for either, and they can't possibly guide the character down a path of maturity without first understanding what his problem is.

Also always popular: the "photos of our cast" montage cover. Snaps of Hall, Larson, Liu, and Fonda grace the cover in a lazy arrangement of squares and rectangles, with some even lazier, more traditional-looking snaps on the back. The disc comes in a standard eco-friendly Amaray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, The Trouble With Bliss looks and sounds solid. Although contrast is tilted slightly toward that modern "gray-as-white" look (with faintly crushed blacks), I otherwise didn't spot any compression artifacts, haloing, noise, or other anomalies in the picture. On extremely close inspection, I caught the faintest hint of banding, but you'd have to be studying the movie up close to see it. The film is dialogue-heavy and rarely much of an atmospheric affair, but it's rendered naturally, with the surround channels nicely filled by Daniel Alcheh's jaunty score. Closed captioning is provided instead of subtitles, although when I activated them on my television, the first couple characters of most sentences were cut off. No idea if this is an issue with the disc or my TV, but it's pretty easy to figure out what's going on anyway.

The Extras
Two extras are included. An interview with Michael C. Hall (12:34) is a pleasant chat with the actor about the character, why he got involved with the movie, the pleasures of shooting on location, and working with the cast. Hall also mentions that he drew a bunch of character material from the book that helped him craft the character...too bad it didn't make it into the movie. It's followed by three deleted scenes (6:41). Surprisingly, two of these are notable: the first one is a surprisingly compelling scene in which Morris meets a former classmate, and the last contains a cameo from Rhea Perlman.

Trailers for Lake Effects, 10 Years, and Love Me play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for The Trouble With Bliss is also included.

The Trouble With Bliss is that it's nothing that hasn't been done before, and done better. Kudos to whoever attracted the cast to this picture, because they did a good job, but the film, like its lead character, is a forgettable schlub. Skip it.

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