Review: Bliss (Slamdance 2024)

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Title: Bliss
Director: Joe Maggio
Starring: Clint Jordan, Faryl Amadeus, Juan Fernández
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins

What It Is: Part 2 of the Virgil Bliss trilogy, Bliss (2022) picks up Virgil’s story 20 years later in the deserts of Southern California where a fugitive Virgil scratches out a meager existence as an Oxy-addicted stable hand.

What We Think: While Bliss is the middle entry of a trilogy, it can very much stand on its own for those who haven’t seen director Joe Maggio’s Virgil Bliss from 2001, the first part of this decade-spanning portrait on a single character at different periods in his life. The events of the first film are so long ago (an exhausting 20 years have passed) that it feels like they never happened, turning into a distant memory that we’re grasping at remembering. To make comparisons or to look for connective narrative tissue between the two films is a meager effort –  what this trilogy is striving to do is to show the character of Virgil Bliss at different points in his life, and this one plays out on a much lower note.

One of the two sole reasons I enjoyed Bliss as much as I did was because of the two magnetic lead performances. Clint Jordan has certainly made the character of Virgil Bliss his own, returning to him with ease, wearing a steely gaze overlooking dormant emotions that are brought to the surface by Faryl Amadeus’s surprising range with her dual performance as both Amy and Jo (something I did not realize until the credits started rolling). Director Joe Maggio’s way of capturing these performances has aged well, from a grainy wide angle lens in Virgil Bliss to the crisp digital look of modern cameras in Bliss, it’s a relief that one’s style cannot be hindered by the technological advancements.

Where the film takes a slower pace for some might be within the unwinding of Virgil and Jo’s relationship and its meaning – there is a half hour there that the film could do without. Despite this, the bare-bones approach to filming is anything but dull. I think the main question here is; if Bliss hadn’t been a part of a trilogy, would there be the same amount of weight laid upon the character of Virgil Bliss? Can we empathize with him regardless? Here presented is a thoughtful answer to just that.

Our Grade: B-; At times there’s grit and intensity through performance, at other intervals light lulls, yet the remaining piece of work is still impressive if you can understand how rare it is to see someone revisit a past story and tell a new chapter within a quieter light.

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