Monday, April 14, 2008

"Death Therapy, Bob. It's a guaranteed cure."


Short Review: What About Bob? | dir. Frank Oz | rel. 1991

I'm glad that this movie went beyond its one-joke premise of an annoying patient who follows his psychiatrist to his vacation home. What About Bob? remains consistently funny throughout and even has some brilliantly goofy dark humor in between. I guess the reason why I enjoyed the film so much was because of its two leading actors--Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. I guess it is expected to see Murray do his usual schtick as a straightforward comedic actor in the role of Bob Wiley. I'm only truly in awe of Murray's talent as an actor when it comes to his performances in Wes Anderson's films. Anderson writes characters for Murray that places him in an unusual arena, and I like that; it forces him to flex his versatility. But still, Murray is quite appropriately a bundle of annoyance and energy in What About Bob?. Oh, who am I kidding? The real reason of why this film works so well, in my opinion, is Richard Dreyfuss.

Dreyfuss is, well, completely and totally insane in the film as Dr. Leo Marvin. He is insanely hilarious, that is. Dr. Marvin, in many ways, is even more insane than his patient when he displays his maddening emotional outbursts. Dreyfuss makes a egotistical, pretentious, and narcissist creep into the character you relate to the most, and that is a fantastic feat. There is a scene where he is teaching his son how to dive. But his son isn't willing to jump into the water. When Bob tries to get his son to dive, the son finally succeeds and this frustrates Dr. Marvin. I think watching someone achieve something that we tried so hard to achieve ourselves is a common emotion--and Dreyfuss and the script portrays that sense of failure and jealousy perfectly. The audience feels sorry for him, not only because he is being visited by possibly the most annoying psychiatric patient within the limits of the film, but even his own family prefers the patient over him. I'm a sucker for cinematic sympathy, and with Dr. Marvin, that's all I felt for him...most of the time.

That is when the writing and directing comes in. The film does a fine job with balancing the more obvious comedic moments with understated scenes of character development. The film cares about its characters, no matter how obnoxious or frustrating they are.

But I must nitpick on a few flaws in the film. Firstly, I was rather irritated by the film's music, which reminded me of standard trailer music from the 90s. Secondly, there are some scenes where I felt rather uncertain about Bob's character. Does this guy need serious help? Is he just a nice guy with a few issues? Is he supposed to be annoying? If he is supposed to be annoying, then why does everyone else in the film (with the exception of Dr. Marvin) adore him even at his worst moments? Another problem that drove my nuts was when Dr. Marvin and his wife allowed Bob to sleep in the same room as their son, especially with Dr. Marvin's hatred for Bob. Would it be a little irresponsible to have your young son sleep in the same room as an adult psychiatric patient? I think so!

Flaws aside, I liked this film quite a lot. I laughed in various scenes, especially in the exchanges between Murray and Dreyfuss and Dreyfuss' individual scenes. What About Bob? is a fun comedy and worth a viewing.

Rating: 7.5/10

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