What About Bob?

Dir: Frank Oz, 1991. Starring: Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss, Julie Hagerty, Kathryn Erbe, Charlie Korsmo. Comedy.
What About Bob?
It’s always been interesting to follow the cinematic career of Bill Murray, an actor and entertainer who, during the ‘80s, could do no wrong when it came to his comedic performances. Even during that period you could start to see his desire to make odd and unique film choices—The Razor’s Edge and Quick Change, for example—and those choices would eventually lay the foundation for the types of roles Murray would go on to play pretty much exclusively now. But there was one last great one-two comedic hurrah from Murray in the early ‘90s with the back-to-back films What About Bob? and Groundhog Day.

What About Bob? came first in 1991 and it stars Murray as a completely multi-phobic personality named Bob Wiley, a man incapable of doing even the smallest of tasks without completely panicking. Deep down, he’s a good-hearted person with the desire to do the right thing; he’s just petrified of everything and everyone around him. Hence, he works from his apartment by day, uses tissues to open doors or shake hands, and would opt to climb 44 flights of stairs rather than be confined in a claustrophobic setting like an elevator. He also starts off each day by repeating the phrase “I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful,” over and over again and the one and only companion he converses with is his pet goldfish, Gil. After a strong recommendation from a previous doctor, Bob meets up with Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), a stern, serious, and fairly egotistical psychiatrist hot on the heels of a successful new book and on the cusp of superstardom via an upcoming appearance on Good Morning America.

Over the course of their first meeting, Dr. Marvin assesses, “Even though you are an almost paralyzed, multi-phobic personality that is in a constant state of panic, your wife did not leave you, you left her because… she liked Neil Diamond.” It only takes that one brief interview with Dr. Marvin and his sheer upfront honesty to convince Bob that this is the only person on the planet who can actually help him and is probably the perfect candidate to become his new “best friend.” Dr. Marvin’s book Baby Steps affirms his simple philosophy that every task should be looked at individually as a baby step and approached as the tackling of one small, attainable goal at a time. Too bad for Bob, Dr. Marvin is leaving the very next day on vacation for a full month with his family to Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire and won’t be able to treat him until his return. This won’t do for Bob. After a bit of manipulating and a few white lies, Bob manages to procure Dr. Marvin’s vacation home address and heads there via bus with Gil in tow.

What follows is a series of hilarious events that makes Dr. Marvin look like a bad guy to everyone in his family and which inadvertently makes Bob out to be a sweet simpleton who’s just in need of a little human interaction. Speaking of Leo’s family, they all love and respect their father, but as with any family unit, his two children have their traditional adolescent problems with their “square” dad. His son Siggy (Charlie Korsmo from Dick Tracy and Can’t Hardly Wait) has a strange fascination with death, yet is petrified of diving at the lake like his father did when he was a kid until Bob gives him the enthusiastic supportive push to do so, much to Leo’s disapproval and contempt. His daughter Anna (Kathryn Erbe) just wants to enjoy her summer with her friends, and that includes bringing Bob along for an afternoon of sailing, which also further solidifies Leo’s growing hatred for his new patient who has successfully assimilated himself into his personal life. Leo’s wife Fay (Julie Hagerty from Airplane!), as sweet natured as a mother and spouse could possibly be, also seems to take an immediate liking to Bob. It’s no help that the Guttmans, the owners of the local diner, have insisted on letting Bob stay with them mainly to get back at Dr. Marvin for swooping in and buying the dream house that they’d worked their whole lives to buy. Even after Leo attempts to commit Bob to a local hospital, Bob manages to somehow sweet talk the entire staff into letting him go, based on his charm and sense of humor. One of the film’s standout lines of dialogue comes when he addresses the hospital staff with his favorite poem—“Roses are red. Violets are blue. I’m a schizophrenic. And so am I.”  Oh, and remember that Good Morning America appearance we mentioned earlier? Well, rest assured that Bob plays a big part in the live national interview when it finally happens at Dr. Marvin’s house. Overall, the entire movie is just an absolute blast and seeing the rapport and anti-chemistry between Murray and Dreyfuss is pure gold. (Rumor has it they didn’t get along in real life all that much either. So perhaps Murray was method acting with this one?)

It’s also interesting to note the collaboration here between director Frank Oz and Bill Murray, a more substantial team-up this time around considering Murray had cameoed in the Oz-helmed Little Shop of Horrors remake as a demented, masochistic dental patient to Steve Martin’s equally sadistic D.D.S. Orin Scrivello. It’s also great to see Murray do something more on the odd and neurotic side. His characters are usually self-confident, a bit cocky and very sarcastic, but the vulnerability and humble sincerity he displays here as Bob Wiley not only wins over the Marvin family, but the audience as well. It’s one of those rare comedies that, after a few viewings, you’ll practically memorize and be able to quote or recognize a quote from it anytime you hear it. If you look back at all the comedies of the ‘90s, this firmly stands out as one of the best written, acted, and directed and is one of the just-plain- funniest of the decade.

Posted by:
Rob Galluzzo
Jun 6, 2012 5:01pm
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