Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Other Hollywood: Finding Bliss

At Q&A’s, why do people outside the industry always want to ask how much films cost to produce? If it is any good whatsoever, these are the dullest discussions you could possibly have about a picture. Still, one aspiring director would have an interesting answer to such questions. She hopes to make her film for next to nothing, using her employer’s cameras, lights, and film on the sly. Yep, she works in porn, but her heart is set on making highly sensitive dramatic features in Julie Davis’s indie comedy Finding Bliss (trailer here), which opens in New York tomorrow.

Based on Davis’s own day-job editing down hardcore movies to soft-core tease for the Playboy Channel, Bliss is not shy about its subject matter. It all truly appalls the uptight Jody Balaban. Thanks to a scrupulously traditional upbringing and some embarrassing early experiences, she is a world removed from the Sex and the City vamps. After receiving an award from Gary Marshall (playing himself) for her student film, she moves out to Hollywood hoping to break into the business. Unfortunately, the only opportunity she finds is an editing bay with her name on it at Grind Productions.

Nobody who ever walked past a Manhattan newsstand will be particularly surprised by the goings-on at Grind, but it continually shocks Balaban. Yet she stays to surreptitiously shoot her film with the studio’s equipment while tentatively pursuing a Tracy-Hepburn relationship with Jeff Drake, a past recipient of her film school award and now the studio’s top skin flick director.

Frankly, the sum of Bliss’s parts is greater than its whole. Just about every porn joke you would expect is in the film. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes not. However, the winning presence of Leelee Sobieski helps compensate for the more than occasionally smarmy moment. Her character’s romanticism is actually quite sweet and her performance is rather endearing.

The chaos around Balaban is much more hit or miss. It is particularly difficult to buy into her relationship with Drake, since Matthew Davis portrays him with all the charm of a blow-dried game show host. Still, the most embarrassing turn comes from Jamie Kennedy, perhaps the most annoying person in show business, who let’s just say does not have the right physical presence to credibly play porn star Richard (get it?) Harder.

Bliss has a nice heart, but its marriage to its naughty American Pie-style humor is an uneasy one. While Davis’s premise is quite clever and her protagonist is genuinely likable, the overall execution is somewhat muddled. Flawed yet undeniably watchable, Bliss opens tomorrow (6/4) at the Village East, but curious viewers can safely wait to Netflix it.