There are generally two character types that Bill Murray plays in his movies. There is the sarcastic asshole, and, occasionally, the well meaning goofball. The former was Bill Murray’s bread and butter throughout his career, the best example being Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters. He can be such a dick to people and yet we still root for him all the way because of his charisma and comic timing. The latter is used in fewer movies, but a great example of it is definitely “What About Bob?” a movie that I saw at the local drive in with my family during its release in 1990.
The movie stars Bill Murray as Bob Wiley, a man suffering from many psychological issues, who constantly calls his doctor, Dr. Leo Marvin, needing advice. Dr. Marvin, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is a successful Psychologist who is publishing a new book and going on a vacation with his family. Unable to go a week without seeking help from his doctor, Bob ends up tracking Dr. Marvin and his family down on their vacation. The movie is mainly about the collision between the manic Bob and conceited Dr. Marvin, as Bob manages to win over Leo’s family and steal the spotlight when he inadvertently makes his way into Dr. Marvin’s Good Morning America interview to promote his book.
I find that comedies are better the simpler they are. The more complicated the plot is, the less room there is for comedy. This film doesn’t have that problem, the premise is clear and easy to follow. This allows for scenes to play out and wring the maximum amount comedy from them. Specifically the portion where Bob ends up having dinner at the Marvin’s vacation home and ends up staying with the family overnight. That is also the strongest portion of the movie.
This movie really shines a light on Bill Murray’s talent, because on paper his character is one of the most annoying people of all time. If anyone but Bill Murray was cast in this role, the whole movie falls apart because the audience would be completely on Dr. Marvin’s side. Thankfully Murray is on the top of his game here, giving a presence to the role that makes him more child like than simply annoying. Murray has a perfect foil in Richard Dreyfuss’ Dr. Leo Marvin. You have a completely different type of character to play off Murray, and the two actors play off perfectly.
My major complaint about the movie is its ending. Quite simply, this movie has no idea how it wants to end. The majority of the movie is over the top, but in a somewhat realistic way. The movie isn’t likely to happen in real life, but there is nothing in it that defies reality to a huge degree. It asks you to suspend as much disbelief as a regular comedy does. Unfortunately it nearly becomes a cartoon for its third act. There is a clear demarcation line when the movie starts to go too fair over the top. It is the scene where Dr. Marvin takes Bob to the mental institution and leaves him there. From that point on it becomes a live action cartoon with Dr. Marvin pretty much going insane and becoming a crazy person. The first 2/3 of the film aren’t subtle, but aren’t as over the top as the last 1/3.
The movie coasts on the performances of Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, and both capably carry the movie even through the shoddy ending. I can’t help but find Murray hilarious in this role. It isn’t a side of Murray we see often, but when he plays a clueless character such as this it really works. He gets his perfect foil in Dreyfus who expertly plays the fussy conceited Psychologist. Apparently the actors didn’t get along in real life, but that works to the movies benefit. Dreyfuss can’t stand Murray and his cinematic alter ego couldn’t either. it is the chemistry between the two characters and the great comedy of the first part of the movie that allows the movie to glide over any problems in its final act. This is a movie that I revisit every once in a while and always enjoy it. It is a very pleasant, rewatchable movie, the kind of low budget, star-driven comedy that doesn’t really exist anymore.