Bob Wiley (Bill Murray), as he himself states, has problems. A New Yorker suffering from multiple phobias, Bob finally takes it upon himself to see psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) about his issues. After the initial meeting, Bob feels good about potential breakthroughs he might achieve through Dr. Marvin, but is disheartened to find out that the doctor is going away for a while to be on vacation with his family.
Despite being given the book Baby Steps, written by Dr. Marvin, to hold him over ’til his doctor returns, Bob can’t cope and decides to track Dr. Marvin down.
You should be able to see where the rest leads.
For those that have read my top 10 comedies post back on my blogger page, you’d know that What About Bob? didn’t make the cut. That doesn’t take anything away from the film, it’s just very difficult to narrow a list down to 10 and sometimes films you like don’t make it. That said, if we’re talking personal favorites, and say a zombie apocalypse was coming and I could only take 5 comedies out of my collection with me: Ghostbusters, Young Frankenstein, A Christmas Story, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and What About Bob?
For the record, along with Ghostbusters, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Godfather and Pulp Fiction, this is another one of those “quote word-for-word” films of mine.
The key to this comedy’s greatness isn’t in the script or the dialogue (that’s not to say they’re bad in any way), but in Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. These two play off each other with such great, comic chemistry. We’ve seen the quirky, eccentric oddball vs. the straight man setup before, but Murray and Dreyfuss sell the recycled concept with ease.
It’s really the way Murray’s Bob Wiley gets under Dreyfuss’s Dr. Marvin’s skin that makes this so funny. At first, Dr. Marvin is a serious and professional psychiatrist, but Bob’s behavior, no matter how well-meaning or likeable it may be, turns him into a slow-burn, “Is everyone against me?” ticking time bomb. To be fair, Bob’s most definitely a stalker at first (How he figures out where Dr. Marvin is located proves that in a funny way), but as I just said, he’s such a likeable guy and means no harm that you feel compelled to side with the Marvin family (solidly played by Julie Hagerty of Airplane! fame, Charlie Korsmo and Kathryn Erbe) who’s instantly charmed off their feet by the guy.
Bill Murray’s bread and butter was always playing the confident lead in films like Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters. Even in a film like Caddyshack, he was a dimwit, but still had that confidence about himself. Here, it’s a change of pace for him in that he’s playing a much more vulnerable character than he was known to play during the ’80s and ’90s. Still, like his characters prior to this film, Wiley contains that good ole’ Murray charm. That’s the main reason why Wiley can be obnoxious at times, yet we feel empathy toward him. It’s a shame that out of all of Murray’s performances, this one is tragically overlooked. Sure, in my opinion, you can never top Dr. Peter Venkman, but he still hits it out of the park here, and like other films of his, I’d find it hard to believe Murray didn’t drop a few ad-libs here and there.
You know who else agrees with me? Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with Murray’s performance after seeing this movie, he made a strong campaign push to get him nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.
Playing opposite Bill Murray is Richard Dreyfuss, who, while mostly playing dramatic roles throughout his career, has effectively dabbled in comedy before, particularly in the 80′s (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Stakeout and Tin Men). Dreyfuss manages to capture all the egotism and full of himself attitude of Dr. Marvin, who treats his own family as if they were patients (usually involving hand puppet replicas), without ever taking it too far. “But you said I could call you Leo.” Wiley says, to which Leo replies, “That was in my office… In my home, I prefer you call me Dr. Marvin.” At times, you wanna slap the arrogance out of him, but credit writer Tom Schulman for giving at least a little bit of empathy to Dr. Marvin. He’s certainly a pompous ass, but there are times where you can still somewhat see his point of view. Like Murray, this is also an underrated performance from Dreyfuss, and all the little things he brings, such as his body language and facial expressions, adds an extra dose of humor to the standard straight man role.
As a Star Wars fan, when I think of Frank Oz, “Known as Yoda, he is.” But, he has carved out a nice directing resume, having directed Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Edward Norton and Oscar winners such as Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Michael Caine and Kevin Kline. Sure, he’s had a few missteps with Housesitter and The Stepford Wives remake, but there’s Little Shop of Horrors, In & Out, Bowfinger, Death at a Funeral (the British original), The Score (venturing away from comedy and into heist-film territory) and the underrated remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He’s not a narrative driven director by any means, but Oz has always had a way of getting the funniest performances out of his cast (which is one of the primary duties of a comedy director anyway). Although, it does take him a while to get things setup, once the ball starts rolling, it’s non-stop fun from there.
The final 20 minutes may seem far-fetched, but far-fetched or not, it still gets me laughing. Plus, if you’re expecting this to be a sharply written analysis of the doctor-patient relationship, the point of this film clearly flew over your head. Schulman’s screenplay does provide some wit, but there’s no question that this film rests on the shoulders of Murray and Dreyfuss and they carry it effortlessly. That, and I can’t imagine anyone else in these roles making their personality shifts work the way they do. It may not be the greatest comedy ever, but in my book, it’s definitely one of the most underappreciated.
Review source: http://silverscreenfanatic.com/2014/02/04/benjamins-stash-5/