Directed by Frank Oz
With the recent Oscars (and the build up leading to them), there was a lot of talk about Bill Murray and his performance in Lost in Translation. This naturally brought older Bill Murray movies to mind.
One that I had forgotten about was 1991’s What About Bob?, directed by Frank Oz.
This little gem probably isn’t top of mind when thinking of Murray because it’s a “nice” movie. By that I mean it isn’t edgy (to use that horribly overworked term). It doesn’t have the satirical bite sometimes associated with Murray.
What it does have, though, are all the strengths Frank Oz brings to his comedic films and great performances by both Murray and co-star Richard Dreyfus.
Frank Oz has a great sense for comic pacing and set ups (such as in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).
His films have a very traditional look in the sense that the director is effaced. There’s no sense of the film being “directed.” It simply lets the comic story unfold and the actors perform.
In this case the performers are Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus and they work great together.
It’s a very standard comic situation, with Murray as a kind of trickster character and Dreyfus the uptight straight man to whom everything happens, but the pair work together wonderfully.
Dreyfus is a pompous psychiatrist more interested in his personal fame and fortune than in patients. He inherits Bill Murray (as Bob Wiley), a patient afraid of everything.
They have one introductory interview. Bob feels he’s finally on the road to recovery; he thinks Dreyfus (Dr. Leo Marvin) is his salvation. Unfortunately, Dr. Marvin is going on vacation for a month and this creates great anxiety in Bob.
So … Bob intrudes on the doctor’s vacation. With well-meaning innocence, he disrupts all the doctor’s plans, endearing himself to everyone in the doctor’s life, particularly his family, while at the same time fanning the anger that grows in the doctor.
Eventually, everyone loves Bob except Dr. Marvin, who hates him.
The characters and the story’s structure allows both Murray and Dreyfus to go with their comedic strengths and it comes off brilliantly.
As a director, Frank Oz is almost the antithesis of flashy. He makes films that on first glance seem too pleasant, too lacking in bite. You come away thinking the film was nice, but perhaps forgettable. The reality, however, is just the opposite.
At his best, such as in What About Bob?, the comic films of Oz are timeless gems. Long after many of the hyped comedies of today pass from memory, these films play with the same humour and fun as the first time.