“I’m divorced,” Bob tells Dr. Marvin. Dr. Marvin asks, “Would you like to talk about that?” Bob responds, “There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t. My ex-wife loves him.”
Bill Murray has appeared in a lot of comedies. There’s the obvious classics such as 1979’s Meatballs, 1984’s Ghostbusters, 1988’s Scrooged, 1990’s Quick Change, and 1993’s Groundhog Day. I would also like to think that Frank Oz’s 1991 directorial effort, What About Bob?, is also considered a comedy classic.
Bill Murray stars as Bob Wiley, a multiphobic psychiatric patient who’s been referred (dumped, really) to Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), who’s about to leave for a family vacation for the next month. After their initial meeting, Bob believes that Dr. Marvin can cure him, but is disappointed that he’ll have to wait until after Labor Day to see him again. After becoming restless, Bob fakes his suicide in order to find out where Leo is staying, and then travels via bus with his pet fish Gil all the way to Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Once he finds Dr. Marvin, he becomes increasingly difficult to get rid of as he befriends Leo’s wife Fay (Julie Hagerty), daughter Anna (Kathryn Erbe), and son Sigmund (Charlie Korsmo). This pushes Leo over the edge, which complicates things for him (Leo is preparing for a visit from Good Morning, America to promote his new best-selling book “Baby Steps”).
Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss just own this movie. Their performances are top-notch as is their chemistry as doctor and patient. Murray plays Bob as a kind of lost dog in need of a good home. Dreyfuss plays Leo as a man who’s lost sight of what’s important in life on his road to success. These two men are in desperate need of help; Bob knows he needs help but Leo doesn’t, and it is their fateful meeting that propels them on the road to improvement (Leo does take a lot longer to reach that point thanks to his own stubbornness). You could say that Bob has already “fallen,” and that he attempts to “rise” as we follow him throughout the film. Leo has to “fall” first before he can “rise.” As Bob slowly improves, Leo gets worse, culminating in his catatonic state before eventually snapping out of it.
Watching Murray and Dreyfuss play off each other is so much fun to watch, especially in scenes where Leo tries to figure out how to get rid of Bob but ultimately fails. I especially liked the scene where Leo is forced to apologize to Bob for pushing him into the lake. Dreyfuss looks at Murray and implies an apology with a facial feature (since he doesn’t want to say it). Murray looks at him and nods, implying that he’s accepted the apology. I also liked that Murray’s performance doesn’t mock those who are multiphobic. He creates the right amount of sympathy and charm for Bob, but also subtly suggests the accountability that Bob must eventually hold himself to as the story progresses.
In addition to a terrific cast that includes Fran Brill as Lily (Leo’s sister), the film also features an engaging screenplay by Tom Schulman from a story by Alvin Sargent and Laura Ziskin. Michael Ballhaus was responsible for the beautiful cinematography, Miles Goodman wrote an excellent score, and the directorial talent of Frank Oz shines through. If you’ve never seen this film, then you need to stop depriving yourself of a Bill Murray classic and see it!