Brie Larson completists - and with her addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I know they are out there - should jump to this twee New York-based comedy. She joyously gets in sync with low-key, romantic shenanigans of "The Trouble with Bliss," and indie comedy that curiously flew under the radar, but now is available for streaming at Popflick.
It is easy to spot his problem. Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall) is a thirty-something with a bad case of arrested development. He has no job and lives with his curmudgeon retired father (Peter Fonda) in a cramped apartment. His room is almost the same as when a teenager, except for a world map on the wall, with pins marking the places he visited. Or rather, those he has read about that he will go to, for real. Someday. That much he shares with Stephanie (Larson) during an afternoon tryst. She looks alarmingly young and dresses in a catholic schoolgirl uniform but swears, cross her heart, that she is 18.
It is hard to see this premise flying in the current climate, but the movie dates from 2011. It works extra time infantilizing the older man and making the girl wiser than her years, at least when she is not saying something that betrays her youth - “My mom is very excited that you are taking me to the prom!” -. Less than a “Lolita” scenario, this plays like “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson, 2012). Two kids are in love, but the boy happens to be 32.
Man-Child on the spot: Michael C. Hall channels "The Trouble with Bliss." / Photo courtesy of John Ramos.
You might find this either creepy or silly. Your tolerance may vary with how this relationship plays out. We know the movie is clearly fiction because somehow, intelligent and beautiful women keep throwing themselves at this scrub. Consider the case of Andrea (Lucy Liu). She is a marketing executive who lives next door and picks up Morris to participate in a focus group and takes him for drinks afterward. Soon, she is unloading her marital woes on him and making out by the mailboxes. Little does he knows that her husband, George (Scott Johnsen), is a muscled jealous guy.
There is very little tension or drive in the movie, except for the inevitable reckoning that will take place when Stephanie’s father realizes who she is having sex with. In the opening scene, she casually slips that she has seen Morris five times before their alleged first encounter, but Morris does not seem to remember her. He is shocked when she finally reveals that her father is Steven “Jetski” Jouseki (Brad William Henke), a high-school mate who seems to believe they were best friends.
The revelation poses Stephanie as a wily operator who punishes her father by seducing his best friend. The script by director Michael Knowles and Douglas Light - adapting his own novel - fails at exploring her reasons and this prickly father-daughter relationship. In fact, Jetski and Stephanie barely have one scene together, while most of his screen time is devoted to trying to get some quality time with Morris.
Brad William Henke shows Hall how to be a grown up in "The Trouble with Bliss" / Photo courtesy of John Ramos.
The movie puts him down as the antagonist, and codes his eagerness to reconnect with an old friend as lameness. The latent threat of violence makes him something of a villain. As a functioning adult, he is not the perfect foe, but an example to follow. He offers a stark contrast to Morris. He has a family of his own and a job. For all its commitment to portraying the growing pains of its protagonist, “The Trouble with Bliss” secretly glorifies it. Who wants to be a square like Jetski?
Alas, this relationship is the one that brings the movie to its high point. Jetski is a contractor renovating a derelict apartment building. He takes Morris for a tour, and they find a trio of young squatters who repel them with flares. Evicting them becomes a joint project for the men. There is something strange, somewhat artificial about the invaders, particularly the apparent leader of the group, who looks like a model dressed as a bum for Halloween. I thought it was just a bad costume design choice, but it actually was a hint toward the most unexpected element. Once they run out of the place, we follow her frantic escape all the way to the same building Morris lives in. She walks into a recently renewed apartment in the cold steel-and-white-marble aesthetic. She is actually a child of privilege, cosplaying as poor for kicks. The contrast between the new money cocoon and Morris’ cramped, proletarian place, coexisting in the same building, speaks volumes about the endless stories running parallel in the big city, crossing paths in surprising ways.
This digression works like a couple of stories Stephanie tells Morris: how her grandmother hanged herself while opening the door of her apartment - she wore the key around her neck -, and how her father faced a belligerent rat. We see flashes of the events in blueish black and white, projecting us to the past and hinting at experiences that go beyond Morris’ small world. If only the movie were keener on exploring stranger paths. We are stuck with a man-child growing pains. The filmmakers dramatize them in ways that fit with the eccentricity of the proceedings. Stephanie makes fun of him for sleeping in his street clothes. As the events pile up, he sheds more articles of clothing every time he hits the bed. The chapters are conveniently closed with fades to black when Morris falls asleep. By the time he achieves something like maturity, he wakes up naked.
“The Trouble with Bliss” may be too enamored with its soft wackiness but I was genuinely surprised by the opportunities afforded to the well-known cast, stretching muscles seldom exercised in predictable Hollywood products. By the time the movie premiered, Michael C. Hall was well into his run as the serial killer “Dexter” (2006-2013). There is nothing better to prove his versatility than this sad sack. He makes an unbearable character compelling. Larson makes every gesture bristle with lived-in energy, and you can see why she rode this wave all the way to an Oscar for “Room” (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015). Seeing her like this makes her recent box-office-driven projects look even more sterile. There is more artfulness in one scene of this movie than in all her run as Mrs. Marvel.
Lucy Liu as you're never seen before: watch her how she steals "The Trouble with Bliss" / Photo courtesy of John Ramos.
For all my reservations, there is a clinker that makes “The Trouble with Bliss” a must. Lucy Liu is delightful in the inexplicable role of a professional, beautiful woman apparently besotted by Morris, seeing his softness as a refuge from her harsh husband. Her success with the TV series “Ally McBeal” (1997-2002) locked her in one-note characters, perilously close to the Dragon Lady stereotype. Here, she exudes warmth in a way I have never seen before. Brad William Henke is equally good as the much-maligned Jetski. I spent the whole movie trying to pinpoint where I had seen him before. Later I discovered he played villainous guard Desi Piscatella in “Orange is the New Black” (2013-2019). The former professional football player died on November 29, 2020, of undisclosed causes. May this be a tribute to a talent gone too soon.
A guy in his mid-thirties watches as his life comically unravels after he enters into a relationship with the daughter of a former high school classmate.Stream Now
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