Generally speaking, it’s not a bad rule to be weary of indie ensemble comedies where every role, even the non-speaking parts, are filled by recognizable actors, as if the filmmakers are overcompensating for a lack of material with a wealth of familiarity. That’s not entirely the case with “The Trouble With Bliss,” a pleasant enough profile of the 35-year-old Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall) as he’s stuck in a rut, but all the familiar faces onhand are there to distract from a whisper thin story.
The real trouble with Bliss is outlined in the film’s opening minutes as his much younger bedmate Stephanie (Brie Larson) cavorts around in his plaid shirt, wondering what’s up with all the pins in the world map that’s on his bedroom wall. The room is tucked within his father’s (Peter Fonda) apartment, and at first, he tells her it’s all the places he’s been, only to quickly concede he hasn’t been anywhere – those are just the places he wants to go. In his current state, he’s unlikely to accomplish much of anything, with Stephanie both the best thing going on in his life and also the worst since it’s clearly a relationship without a future, not to mention that her father (Brad William Henke) is an old acquaintance from high school.
That Stephanie isn’t the only pretty lady in the orbit of this disheveled sadsack is a bit of a stretch — a focus group leader (Lucy Liu) who lives in the apartment next door also has an attraction to him that’s as inexplicable as the fact she doesn’t know the proper name for the Mexican condiment with chopped tomatoes she’s testing. (It’s called salsa, they figure out together in their meet-cute.) But the same off-kilter rhythm that give it lapses in logic also contribute to a mildly endearing quirkiness that isn’t forced and its build to being a broad farce by the time Stephanie and Morris’ relationship builds to a head doesn’t feel out of place, even if it doesn’t quite pack the punch it should. (Seeing the air between actors when a fake punch thrown doesn’t help matters.)
As a showcase for its actors, the film does well by its cast, particularly Larson, whose flighty yet strangely idealistic Stephanie seems to a fair representation of the entire enterprise. She keeps the material grounded even as she gives it a much-needed lift with her fun, flirty presence and in general, the lighter tone brings out a side of its cast that’s a nice break from their previous work.
Still, even if the maxim holds that 90 percent of the film is made by its cast, what largely doesn’t work about “The Trouble With Bliss” can be attributed to its primary filmmaker. Director Michael Knowles is smart enough to let the film amble along amiably to its own drummer but it’s not without the same dead ends that mirror the ones in Morris’ life. A couple of black-and-white flashbacks for eccentric episodes in Stephanie’s life are roughly introduced and discarded quickly and a subplot involving Morris’ friend (Chris Messina) and the daughter of his landlord (Sarah Shahi) could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.
For what’s already a trifle to begin with, such missteps are noticeable, but mostly forgiven by the performances and composer Daniel Alcheh’s energetic Greek-inflected score and ultimately, “The Trouble With Bliss” is a more positive way to use one’s time than Morris is spending his.