Frank Oz’s What About Bob? is one of those films that doesn’t know what wants to be and as such can’t settle down into one aesthetic. I can appreciate that sometimes but usually only when the film in question is a sort of patchwork amalgamation of different stuff on purpose, and not one simple story that should tune itself into one frequency before hitting go.
Bill Murray is Bob, a sweet guy who doesn’t quite understand the concept of boundaries and pushes them any chance he gets, sometimes unknowingly. He suffers from Obsessive Compulsive disorder and anxiety, which these days is being treated with much more thought and care in Hollywood and the real world. His psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfuss) brushes him off to head out from NYC to New Hampshire on vacation with his family, so what does Bob do? Follow him of course, and interrupt an already tense family retreat with his constant need for attention, validation and help with simple everyday things like opening a car door. Dreyfuss’s family (Julie Hagerty, Kathryn Erbe and the kid from Hook) love Bob and the good doctor can’t stand him.
The problem with this film is it can’t figure out who to sympathize with. Is Bob crazy and genuinely making this family’s life hell? Is he just a good dude and it’s the doctor who’s crazy for trying to get him out of his life? Are the rest of the family crazy for warming up to a total stranger/stalker so quick? Who cares? The script sure doesn’t seem to because when the third act rolls around and it should be time to wrap up arcs in a way that feels earned, it goes totally ballistic and characters begin to act fucking nuts, at least too much so for a benign ‘comedy’ like this anyhow. Murray’s performance is likeable enough to not be completely over the edge but the character is untethered from meaningful revelations or pathos. Dreyfuss starts at unlikeable and only escalates from there into a solid gold asshole, while the family is hit and miss. My favourite scene of the film shows Bob driving to the lake with the daughter (Erbe), discussing Bob’s issues and what makes them both anxious in life, respectively. It’s the only scene in the film that takes anything remotely seriously or gives a thought to this story, and the rest is just misguided noise. Avoid.