Populated with unlikely occurrences and oddball characters, The Trouble with Bliss plays out, to put it most complimentary, like a dull, slower moving After Hours, with its main character, Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall), inexplicably finding himself subjected to a series of strange encounters after meeting a young girl (Brie Larson). But while the vaguely bookish Manhattanite played by Griffin Dune in Martin Scorsese’s cocaine-fueled showpiece had the order of his 9-to-5 life exploded by unwelcome events, Hall’s vaguely bookish Manhattanite is unemployed and doesn’t even know he’s been waiting for something like this to shake him up and get him out of Daddy’s East Village apartment.
The Trouble with Bliss replaces After Hours’s nightmarish tone with something lighter, a slacker fantasy in which Morris suddenly becomes prey to attractive females coming at him like lionesses. Sure, this is yet another Gen-X dramedy, but where it’s different from Greenberg or Hot Tub Time Machine is that it features a character, who, despite still residing in his boyhood bedroom, isn’t done in by past regrets and appears to be on the brink of breaking out of himself and making life decisions.
His father (Peter Fonda) tells him that, at Morris’s age, he had a job, a wife, and kids, which is to say, a life. And in his subdued, okay-I-know manner, Morris takes the flak because he’s numb and paralyzed from a stalled life that’s unexplained by the script. He isn’t a total loser, as he still has plans for himself, suggested by the push-pinned map that indicates his intentions to travel. By this measure, Morris is better off than most Gen-X characters the movies have recently offered us because underneath the rug that he is to most people in his life, he’s got a pulse, and because of his modesty and simmering sense of direction he isn’t likely to wind up in a mental institute or trapped in a hot tub of regret.
While The Trouble with Bliss isn’t exactly original, its cast keeps it watchable and likeable. Lucy Liu, playing Morris’s married neighbor, adds some spunk to the film’s potential lulls, acting as a life defibrillator to Morris’s torpidity. As charismatic as much of the cast may be, Morris, less so than Greenberg, isn’t the easiest character to relate to. After all, he doesn’t do much. But his sense of decency (at least he doesn’t hurt any one) combined with his limp will (as opposed to aversion) to participate in life make him sympathetic enough that we’re more inclined to laugh from his perspective than at him, largely thanks to Hall’s quiet performance, and despite Michael Knowles’s bland and patchy direction.