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,What About Bob?

What About Bob?

Benefiting from a first-and-only star pairing of Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray, the agreeable if not wholly politically correct family farce What About Bob? (1991) played to the particular comic strengths of its leads as an uptight psychotherapist and his intractable new patient, and proved a respectable $63 million spring hit for Disney in its theatrical run.

The overbearing psychiatrist Leo Melvin (Dreyfuss) is blessed with a successful Manhattan practice and a loving wife (Julie Hagerty) and kids (Charlie Korsmo, Kathryn Erbe) that he named after the Freuds, and whom he relates to with the same patronizing attitude he reserves for his clientele. Thrilled with the prospect that his forthcoming pop psychology book is getting a major push from its publisher, he's preparing to take the family on a month-long lakeside vacation in New England, where he can be interviewed by Good Morning America in relative peace.

Unfortunately, Leo hadn't counted on the tenacity of the hyper-dependent Bob Wiley (Murray), a recent referral from an exasperated colleague. Bob is a living cauldron of bizarre phobias, a man who left his wife for no other reason than she liked Neil Diamond and he didn't, and who literally has to lead himself by his own hand in order to be able to leave his apartment. Unwilling to face a month without access to his shrink, Bob wheedles the Melvins' vacation address from Leo's answering service, and, after requesting a fellow passenger to punch his lights out so he can get through the bus ride north, shows up at their door.

From there, the slapstick builds, as Leo tries to balance rational inveigling of Bob to go home with the urge to kill him, while his family takes to this gentle oddball who's able to engage them on a level the self-absorbed therapist never could. Even an attempt to commit Bob blows up in his face, as the institution deems him the sanest person they've ever encountered ("Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm a schizophrenic, and so am I!") Leo, of course, is a complete wreck by the time his coveted network moment rolls around, and it's Bob, of course, who helps him "deal" with the crisis.

"Don't be fooled by his on-screen attitude," director Frank Oz remarked in a 2003 profile on Murray for Entertainment Weekly. "He works hard and cares a great deal. He's not the easy, casual guy he often plays. Like most of us, he's not what he seems." Oz, the Muppeteer behind Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Yoda, proved the perfect fit to bring the stage musical Little Shop of Horrors (1986) to the screen, and has since been a dependable helmer of farces such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), In & Out (1997), Bowfinger (1999), and Death at a Funeral (2007). In a role for which Woody Allen and Patrick Stewart had been courted to play, Dreyfuss hits all the right notes in delineating the tumble of the arrogant and ultimately humbled headshrinker.

At the time he made What About Bob?, the 13-year-old Korsmo was in the midst of an incandescent run as one of Hollywood's most talked-about juvenile talents, as further evidenced by his acclaimed efforts in Men Don't Leave (1990), Dick Tracy (1990) and Hook (1991). The grounded, intelligent youngster decided soon after that he'd had his fill of show business, and his appearance in Can't Hardly Wait (1998) marked his only acting since. Korsmo managed a 4.0 GPA in earning his physics degree at MIT in 2002; after a few years holding various federal posts in Washington, he obtained a law degree from Yale.

The petite Erbe, a decade away from starting her successful run as Alexandra Eames on TV's Law and Order: Criminal Intent, made her screen debut here playing a teen at age 26; she was only 10 years younger than her screen mom Julie Hagerty.

Producer: Laura Ziskin
Director: Frank Oz
Screenplay: Tom Schulman; Alvin Sargent and Laura Ziskin (story)
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Art Direction: Jack Blackman
Music: Miles Goodman
Film Editing: Anne V. Coates
Cast: Bill Murray (Bob 'Bobby' Wiley), Richard Dreyfuss (Dr. Leo Marvin), Julie Hagerty (Fay Marvin), Charlie Korsmo (Sigmund 'Siggy' Marvin), Kathryn Erbe (Anna Marvin), Tom Aldredge (Mr. Guttman), Susan Willis (Mrs. Guttman).
C-99m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg



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