The reasons I like Bill Murray are probably different than why most others like him, and they have nothing to do with his movies. Sometimes he is funny to me. The one-liners that he has in Ghostbusters (1984) are good, but outside of that classic I cannot think of too many other pieces of cinema that he is in that truly tickle my funny bone. I mean, they are okay, but nothing special. I appreciate Bill Murray because he is originally from the Chicago area, born in the suburb of Wilmette, and is a die-hard Cubs fan. These are both traits with which I can identify. Thus, when he is in a movie, it is like watching a distant friend or family member. You see it because you want to support their work. Chicagoans are like that. There are a lot of people in general who like What About Bob? (1991). It is alright, but I willingly watch it (unlike others on my list) because he is one of us.
If you are unfamiliar with What About Bob?‘s premise, then the main thing you need to know is that Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) is a man with pretty much every psychosis imaginable. The first scene features him alone in his bed, repeating “I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful,” and talking to his goldfish. As this is a comedy, I began to get a little worried. As I indicated in my review of There’s Something About Mary (1998), sometime over the years I grew out of enjoying making fun of people with special needs. That is not entirely what is going on with What About Bob?, but there is still a disturbing element to it on which I will elaborate. In the meantime, we learn that his former psychiatrist is transferring him to the renowned practitioner Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss). Before Dr. Marvin can officially accept, Bob shows up at his office for his initial interview. After an odd exchange, in his vanity Dr. Marvin believes that by talking about taking “baby steps” in tackling the life issues that plague Bob, and giving him a copy of his book of the same title, he has already made a breakthrough with his new patient. Dr. Marvin then ushers Bob out the door, telling the patient that they will see each other in one month. The thought of having to wait that long to see Dr. Marvin terrifies Bob, and before the day is out Bob is already attempting to get a hold of Dr. Marvin, who has left the city for his planned excursion with his family. In desperation, Bob resorts to trickery, faking a suicide and impersonating a police officer in order to learn where Dr. Marvin has gone. It is played for laughs, but it is also a bit creepy. When Bob shows up where Dr. Marvin and his family are, the psychiatrist is shocked to see someone he was told was dead. His family, on the other hand, see Bob as harmless, even after he also shows up unexpectedly at their house. What proceeds from there are a series of scenes where Bob slowly ingratiates himself more into Dr. Marvin’s life. This is not at all to Dr. Marvin’s liking as he is about to be interviewed on Good Morning America regarding his new book. By the time they get to this television appearance, dealing with Bob has destroyed the calm professionalism with which Dr. Marvin deals with everyone, including his family. When Dr. Marvin’s last attempt to separate Bob from them by placing him in a psychiatric ward fails because Bob charms them too, Dr. Marvin resorts to drastic measures. He steals gunpowder from the town store and rigs up a set of explosives. Dr. Marvin then ties down Bob in the woods, places the bomb around his former patients neck, and returns home thinking he is finally free. Yet, somehow Bob wriggles free and unwittingly places the charge in the Marvin’s vacation home, which luckily goes off with no one inside. This sends Dr. Marvin into a catatonic state, which does not end until Bob is marrying Dr. Marvin’s sister Lily (Fran Brill). And that is where the madness ends.
Taken out of context, much of that summary of What About Bob? sounds quite disturbing. To recap, there are illegal activities (impersonating a police officer), lies, breaching of the patient-client relationship, attempted murder, destruction of property, and madness. And because we live in a society where, thankfully, many of these issues are no longer fodder for comedy, the movie is a bit dated. I will admit to chuckling in a few places, but not as much as perhaps I would have closer to when it was released. Mental health is an important issue, particularly after this past year. The Catholic Church has always taken this seriously. It is a big reason why clergy are encouraged to take sabbaticals in order to better cope with the mental strain of what they are asked to perform daily. Interestingly, this concept ties in with the film. Dr. Marvin is attempting to take a vacation, and in many respects I empathize with his desire to take his ease with his family. His reaction to Bob barging in could have been better. Then again, had he done the sensible thing and called the cops, there probably would not have been a movie. Still, one of the pieces of advice he gives Bob at one point in an attempt to get his impertinent client to go away is to take a vacation from his problems. Remarkably, this seems to work for Bob, and slowly we see him conquer the everyday activities that once crippled him. If the film were played straight, it could almost be a heartwarming tale of triumph.
Because What About Bob? is meant to be funny, I did not care for its subject matter, to a point. I do appreciate that Bob is able to seemingly improve, but the uncomfortable things he does to get there are a little cringe-worthy. I know people who have dealt with many mental issues, and I pray that they are able to conquer them. What helps is love, and the care that the Marvins, Dr. Marvin excepting, show Bob is a major contributing factor in his transformation. In the end, it is about family. The love family can show us is about as close as we will ever know of God in this life. That is precious, and why this film gets a cautionary recommendation.