The irritations with The Trouble with Bliss begin with its twee title–the main character’s name is Morris Bliss, get it?–and mount quickly. Michael C Hall (TV’s Dexter) plays our titular hero, a jobless 35 year old still living in the East Village apartment of his ornery father (Peter Fonda, too good for this type of film). Bliss is one of these movie creations whose failures can be explained by a single fault in his past—his beloved Greek mother died when he was a boy. He also gets a free pass for being a screw-up because we know he is large of soul, conveyed to us by repeated scenes of him sticking pushpins on a map to show where he’d like to travel to.
The episodic tale takes place over a weekend in which Bliss hooks up with a pretty but manic 18-year-old Stephanie (Brie Larsen) and gets into a series of what the filmmakers assume are picaresque adventures with colorful neighborhood locals. They are actually cringe-inducing encounters with one-note characters, who tell long, inane stories, occasionally illustrated with pointless black-and-white flashbacks. There’s the horny downstairs neighbor (Lucy Liu); an obliviously jovial former classmate, who’s also Stephanie’s father (Brad William Henke); and a weird loser (Chris Messina) mixed up with a secret cult.
The movie is so dated in its depiction of the East Village that you have a hard time believing it was only made in 2010. At one point Bliss and a friend try to scare away squatters, who look like they wandered out of the 1987 cult horror/comedy Street Trash. The film is also astonishingly clumsy on a technical level, shot with dull and cheap-looking lighting unworthy of a sitcom, and with edits that frequently don’t match up. I can see this movie gaining a kind of cult status, but only among Michael C. Hall completionists, and you know they’re out there, who will wear the viewing of this as a badge of pride.