Bliss, the new film by writer/director Mike Cahill, is a high concept sci-fi fable that could have gone in many directions. For a while, this keeps this loony film on the rails, buzzing with energetic possibilities. However, once the film fully reveals its message(and yes this is most certainly a message film) it crashes underneath the weight of its heavy-handed and borderline insulting views on addiction.
Owen Wilson plays Greg, a sad sack who gets sacked from his draining job. He is recently divorced and fighting to stay involved in his kids' lives. His daughter Emily (Nesta Cooper) in particular wants to make sure he is doing okay. While being fired Greg's boss drops dead. Greg moves the body out of sight and quickly leaves the building and heads to a nearby bar. It is here he meets Isabel (Salma Hayek), a woman from his elaborate drawings of someplace he has never been before. She offers him the red pill and reveals Greg is in a simulation designed to make you experience the bad in life so you can appreciate the good.
The simulation is full of FGPs, Fake Generated Persons. Greg's boss was one so it is fine he died, Emily is one so it is fine to abandon her. Greg and Isabel snort some glowing yellow stones to affect the world around them. There is an extended scene at a rollerskating rink where the two flick their hands and send FGPs falling. As fun as this is, Greg soon begins to feel his daughter's pull. Isabel keeps feeding him drugs to keep him believing. It doesn't take long before the two of them look homeless, ragged clothes caked with dirt is about all they have. That is until they snort some rare blue crystals that break them out of the simulation.
Mike Cahill's film has plenty of ideas albeit not particularly original ones. For a while, Bliss is fun as things get revealed. It is even fun in a bonkers way past that. However, the third act forces a tired, careless message about addiction that throws everything fun about the movie out the window. The ending undermines any of the sci-fi elements. Cahill seems to be going for a big emotional surprise here but it comes off as finger-wagging at best. Addiction is a serious affliction. The simulation metaphor at the core of Bliss is woefully ill-equipped to deal with the subject in a meaningful way. Hayek brings a lot to her role as Isabel, even when having to deliver cheesy dialogue. Wilson is a bit miscast here, unable to shed his nonchalant charm for a more serious depiction.