50 Movies for 50 States: Week 48 – Virginia, Film – What About Bob?

Week 48 – Virginia

What About Bob? (1991), produced by Touchstone Pictures in association with Touchstone Pacific Partners 1, directed by Frank Oz, written by Alvin Sargent (story), Laura Ziskin (story) and Tom Schulman (screenplay), with Bull Murray, Richard Dreyfuss, Julie Hagerty, Charlie Korsmo and Kathryn Erbe, cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, original music by Miles Goodman

Five more states to go!

Remember this one?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably seen What About Bob? countless times in the past in some form. Maybe you caught bits and pieces of it on cable where it used to seemed to play almost continuously in the early to mid-1990s on a loop along with another movie I wrote about earlier and reruns of Saved By The Bell.

I’ll guess it’s probably been a good 10 to 15 years since you last watched What About Bob? from start-to-finish, in which case it’s completely forgivable if you get bits and pieces of it confused with Groundhog’s Day. Maybe you get it confused with the Phoebe Cates/Rik Mayal similarly-titled farce Drop Dead Fred. Maybe you’ve just never seen What About Bob? from beginning-to-end. Don’t be ashamed. It’s an ADD society and not all of us are prescribed little blue pills to help us focus on the important things in life like – well … you know — watching What About Bob? all the way through to the credits.

Luckily, I’ve got the blue pills and the will. And I’m happy to report that What About Bob? is just as funny as it was almost 20 years ago. Dare I say “funnier?”

Funnier. That’s right. I dare.

The plot: Bill Murray stars as Bob (Bob “Bobby” Wiley), an agoraphobic, anxiety-prone New York City Joe for whom every day is a struggle. For Bob, anything that carries a potential risk is off-limits. Bob is a germaphobe. Any person who has ever rubbed shoulders with a total stranger while riding the subway or walking down the sidewalks in New York City knows, for a city dweller germs are unavoidable. This makes Bob’s life very unpleasant.

Richard Dreyfuss is Dr. Leo Marvin, a very successful psychologist and author. One of Dr. Marvin’s colleagues phones Dr. Marvin and recommends he take on Bob as a patient. Clearly Bob has not been an easy case, because when Dr. Marvin agrees to see Bob and hangs up the phone, Bob’s former psychologist lets out a cry of “I’m free!”

This isn’t a very subtle movie.

Bob’s initial meeting with Dr. Marvin goes well. Dare I say, “great”? Dr. Marvin gives Bob a copy of his book “Baby Steps,” an obvious parody of the overly-simplistic self-help manifestos which were all the craze in the early to mid 1990s like John Gray’s “Men Are From Mars…” book series and Susan Powter’s “Stop The Insanity!” brand. Bob immediately takes a liking to the “Baby Steps” philosophy, which is to handle each new situation cautiously … with baby steps, you might say.

Then Dr. Marvin advises Bob that he’s going on vacation for a month. In a previous scene, we learned that Dr. Marvin would be interviewed by the television talk show Good Morning America while on vacation about “Baby Steps.”

“What kind of job let’s you go on vacation for a month?” my wife Anna asked.

“A psychologist that over-charges his patients and doesn’t really give a shit about them,” I answered.

Dr. Marvin is a tool. He’s a tool for many reasons, among them, using his psychology practice to sell books full of generalized psychological hocus-pocus rather than real personalized mental help.

Yet, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Le initially. Like, for instance, when only a day into his vacation he starts getting phone calls from Bob, who with just one doctor’s visit has formed a somewhat unhealthy relationship with his new shrink. When Dr. Marvin’s office refuses to patch Bob through to Dr. Marvin’s cabin in New Hampshire (the movie was actually filmed in Virginia), Bob pretends to be Dr. Marvin’s sister.

When Bob runs out of people to impersonate, he decides to find out where Dr. Marvin is vacationing by faking his own death and then impersonating a police officer. The plan works as well as well as you would expect it to work in a big budget Hollywood comedy and, the next thing you know, Bob’s on his way to Lake Winnipesaukee.

Needless to say, hilarity ensues until a brief period at the end of the movie in which Dr. Marvin takes a few measures in his quest to rid himself of Bob which take his character over the line from “antagonist” into “cold-hearted villain.” (Assuming you take the stance that Dr. Marvin is the antagonist in this film. One could just as easily argue that Bob is the antagonist. But that’s an argument for another person’s blog. I’m just here to make dumb jokes and crack wise.) No worries though, because it all works out for mostly everyone in the end.

What About Bob? isn’t the kind of movie to broke any new ground, but it’s funny. It was one in a line of good movies from director Frank Oz (The Dark Crystal, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, not to mention the voice of Yoda), before the 1990s when he – like many other talented directors from the 1980s – began phoning it in. What was it about the 1990s that made directors like Oz, John Landis, John Hughes and others just not give a shit anymore once the 1980s came to an end? Were they not edgy enough to survive once everything went “alternative”? Was all the good cocaine gone? Does it even matter? No offense to Frank Oz (who is probably appreciated more for his contribution as a voice actor than as an actor), but it’s Bill Murray that makes this movie. Murray throws himself into the role of Bob Wiley, single-handedly carrying the movie. Bill Murray ruled the 1980s as far as comedy is concerned between films like this, Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Caddyshack and others.

Co-star Richard Dreyfuss plays the part of the dickhead amazingly well … almost too well as the sheer mean-spiritedness of his character is taken to almost absurd lengths during the movie’s final act. But. At the end of the day, it’s just a dumb comedy.

Did What About Bob change my life? No. Did I laugh? Most certainly. And sometimes that’s all that matters.

Other movies shot in Virginia: Lots of movies, although – as in the case with What About Bob? – Virginia is often the stand-in for another state or, often times, Washington D.C. The list includes Toy Soldiers, Dirty Dancing, Evan Almighty, Gods and Generals, Marnie, Giant, Sommersby, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, among others.

Next: Washington. Great TV shows rarely translate well to the big screen.


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