What About Bob? (1991)

(On TV, March 2017) There’s an exceptionally tricky balance at the heart of What About Bob? that would have been easy to mishandle. Making a comedy about a blatantly annoying protagonist taking down a respectable professional sounds terrible as a premise—how to balance the humour and the darkness? Fortunately, this is a movie with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss as assets, and a pretty good sense of structure in the way the script is put together. The initial impression are that the patient (Murray) is an annoying pest while the psychologist (Dreyfuss) is a competent family man. But as the story progresses, things start shifting. Our annoying pest proves resourceful, kind and entertaining. Our competent psychologist turns out to have issues of his own, alienating much of his family. (Along with a crucially-important couple of neighbours). When the two clash, the patient progresses and the psychologist regresses, all the way to an explosive climax. What About Bob? wouldn’t be what it is without the combined acting talents of its lead (with Julie Hagerty turning in a small but very enjoyable performance as the voice-of-reason.) To its credit, it also becomes funnier as it goes along—the first thirty minutes are a bit too awkward and off-kilter to be truly enjoyable, but the film ensures that it becomes more and more acceptable to laugh along as it progresses. While I’m not sure that What About Bob? is a classic, it has aged pretty well in the past 25 years, and manages to play with some tricky material.

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