What About Bob? (1991)

Review by Boniface

Directed by Frank Oz, What About Bob? (PG, 1991) starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus is a classic comedy that explores the concept of the dividing line between sanity and insanity. Murray plays the title character of Bob Wiley, a multi-phobic hypochondriac neurotic who is recommended to famous psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (Dreyfus) for help. Bob forms a close attachment to Dr. Marvin, whom he sees as his only hope, only to find that Dr. Marvin is leaving town for a month to go vacation in New Hampshire. Bob cannot bear to be parted from his doctor for so long and manages to track down Dr. Marvin at his private vacation home where he endears himself to the doctor's family while driving Dr. Marvin himself to the brink of insanity.

This film was made at the height of Bill Murray's career and reminds us of just how great of a comic actor Murray really is - facial expressions, bodily gestures, even movement of the eyes and just the way lines are delivered are all perfect. He plays the perfect comic foil to Dreyfus' stiff, arrogant psychiatrist. The chemistry here is perfect.

The interesting theme that underlies the film is the concept of sanity. Dr. Marvin begins as the sane one whose job is to help Bob Wiley return to normalcy. But in following Dr. Marvin to his vacation home in New Hampshire, Bob comes out of himself and meets all sorts of new acquaintances, slowly becoming a normal, if somewhat eccentric, person. Throughout this time Dr. Marvin does not treat him at all; he simply attempts to avoid him in order to enjoy his vacation. Running from the problem makes Dr. Marvin miserable, but coming out of himself and reaching out to others makes Bob happy. As it turns out, Bob's neuroses are solved by nothing other than reaching out and making meaningful contact with other human beings. Charity and compassion were all that was necessary to heal the wounded mind; similarly, attempts to solve problems by rigid methods of psychiatry fall flat on their face; this is symbolized well in many of the encounters between Dr. Marvin and his family throughout the movie.

Dr. Marvin, however, is so preoccupied with simply getting rid of Bob (with all the humor that entails) that he begins to come unbalanced. By the end of the film, it is Dr. Marvin who seems insane while Bob looks perfectly normal. One wonders whether Dr. Marvin's unraveling was due solely to Bob's eccentricities or if perhaps Bob simply drew out an inner disorder that was already latent; I suspect the latter. Sanity and insanity are flipped on their head in a delightful situational paradox that is almost Chestertonian.

There is no sexuality in the film, though there is an unfortunate running gag about Tourette's syndrome that has Bob saying all sorts of vulgar words - although, since this is a PG film, the words of not cuss words outright; rather, they are low-brow phrases like "douche breath" and "testicle head." Not as bad as an F-bomb, but still not the kind of language you want your children picking up. It is unfortunate, because these few scenes alone disqualify the film from being for kids. If it were not for them, I would recommend it for the whole family.

But, being that this is the movie's sole defect, I give What About Bob? two point five tiaras. Go watch it. You'll laugh.