You can’t walk past a bus-stop these days without Coming of Age movies miserably hanging around, smoking, drinking Thunderbird and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Whether it’s the fine Lady Bird, the dark Beast, the heartstrings-pulling Apostasy or Deborah Haywood’s brilliantly bonkers Pin Cushion, it’s fair to say producers have been going a bit haywire for the genre over the past couple of years. This is not a new phenomenon of course; The Breakfast Club (1985), Stand By Me (1986), Dazed and Confused (1993), This is England (2006), you could literally fill a WH Smith moleskin notepad with it, before emblazoning The Smiths and Manic Street Preachers on the cover. Bliss! is one of many, but the question is whether it can stand out from a very populated crowd.
Unfortunately, the answer is not really. These kinds of movies tend to live or die by the performance of their main actor, the relationships they have, the character arc they travel, the decisions they need to make. On the surface, Bliss! has all of these. Tasha is one of five siblings, all from different fathers, her mother is more concerned with her well-being than the minutiae of her children’s welfare. Tasha finds out early that the man she thought was her father is, in fact not, and a quick nefarious check of her birth certificate confirms this (unknown). She randomly finds out that her real father is from Norway and decides to journey across the North Sea on borrowed funds to track him down. Freya Parks, as Tasha, does a decent job but struggles with the script attached to her. Tasha’s mother Karen (Lombard) has the most emotive role as she struggles between keeping her children happy, her boyfriend satisfied, and the bills paid, but even she doesn’t always come across as genuine. Tasha’s elder sister Jenny (Johns) and younger sister Debbie (Cuskin) are both stand-outs but neither are given much of a narrative to work with.
Hélène Muddiman adds a wistful, gentle score which compliments Richard Stoddard’s lovely work with the camera, getting the very most out of everything Tyneside has to offer. His composition of terraced houses, countryside and docks are all excellently woven into the narrative. But none of this can make up for the lack of plot nor the unlikely events which make up the small twists littered throughout.
Bliss! is watchable, with a decent set of performances and excellent camerawork, but is constantly let down by scenes which drag 90 seconds too long and characters which are consistently muted by the director’s need to push through the story-line. It feels like there was a great film in here somewhere but was lost in pacing and character development.
Dir: Rita Osei
Scr: Alex Ferguson, Rita Osei, Jenny Wilkes
Cast: Freya Parks, Montserrat Lombard, David Leon, Chloe Cuskin, Reece Noi, Lauren W. Johns
Prd: Alan Latham, Rita Osei
DOP: Richard Stoddard
Music: Hélène Muddiman
Run Time: 95 minutes