Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Trouble With Bliss

Illustration for article titled The Trouble With Bliss

Morris Bliss, the hero of this adaptation of Douglas Light’s novel East Fifth Bliss, is in plenty of ways a standard indie film schlub: He’s 35, still lives at home with his dad, and doesn't have a job or a direction in life other than a vague yearning to travel. What sets him aside from the usual arrested-development type is that the hometown in which he's mired is Lower Manhattan, a place it turns out is just as easy to get bogged down in as any quirkier location, and that he’s played by Michael C. Hall. Even in an old T-shirt and scruff of beard, Hall seems too canny and calculated a presence to entirely inhabit this man-child role, which lends a compelling edge to an otherwise scattershot story of urban misadventure and coming of age.

Hall shares an East Village walk-up with his widowed father (Peter Fonda), whom he pretends to be caring for, though it’s more the other way around: His parent is still his main source of cash. (“I can’t keep giving you an allowance,” he complains.) While browsing through records at a music store, Hall meeting meets Manic Pixie Dream Girl-on-acid Brie Larson, an 18-year-old Catholic schoolgirl who leaps into bed with him and then informs him she’s the daughter of “Jetski” (Brad William Henke), a guy he was friends with in high school. Hall’s just-legal Lolita shakes up his stale existence, but she’s also demanding and jealous of the man she’s decided is her boyfriend, who’s facing the added complication of repeatedly running into her father on the street.

The Trouble With Bliss bounces from eccentric character to oddball encounter. Hall meets and has a flirtation with a married neighbor (Lucy Liu) who recruits him for the market-testing of salsa; he has drinks with his perpetually broke friend NJ (Chris Messina), a spinner of wild stories; and he and Henke, armed with paintball guns, oust squatters from a building being renovated. These strands, which themselves include digressions (one involving a rat, another a buffet in Harlem), feel underdeveloped and unconnected, particularly one involving Sarah Shahi as a woman with ties to some kind of global cartel. The film aims to present a mosaic of crazy New York life, but instead seems more like a shaggy-dog story being spun out by an easily distracted barfly over the course of an idle afternoon.