What About Bob? (1991, Frank Oz)

What About Bob? is a special movie. It’s absolute dreck. Coming from screenwriter Tom Schulman, I suppose its lack of quality shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I think I was operating under the assumption producer Laura Ziskin wouldn’t let it get too bad. I mean, production wise, it’s got good people–Anne V. Coates is good editor and Michael Ballhaus has done some truly great films. I mean, sure, Frank Oz isn’t great shakes, but he’s competent.

So why’s Bob so awful? First, and easiest, it mocks mental illness. Though Bill Murray’s performance is atrocious and he’s never believably mentally ill for a moment in the movie–it’s a real problem, Murray playing the character as a totally sane, totally self-aware jerk (he just wants to make Richard Dreyfuss miserable)–he is supposed to be mentally ill. And the viewer is supposed to laugh at him. Second, it’s never believable the supporting cast would welcome him into the fold, knowing he’s a patient of Dreyfuss’s prominent psychiatrist. It’s ludicrous.

It’s got to be one of Murray’s worst performances (one can hear the paycheck deposit), but there’s a lot of terrible acting to go around. Julie Hagerty’s “acting” is something special, but Charlie Korsmo is even worse. He’s got to be one of the worst child actors I can remember. Just terrible.

Oddly, Kathryn Erbe’s steady, even though her writing is as bad as everyone else’s.

Dreyfuss has some moments and they’re mostly visible, where one can see he’s at least enjoying himself (for the most part, he isn’t). The rest of the time, he looks mildly embarrassed, but no more than the viewer who remembers his good, better and unspectacularly poor films.

Oz’s direction isn’t bad. The movie looks beautiful and Oz is competent when it comes to framing shots, especially all the (slightly) moving camera shots–mostly the camera following people as they go over to other people. And he also convinced me, somehow, if I kept watching, it’d get better (it never, ever does–the ending is just as awful as everything else in the movie).

What’s scary about Bob is how light-hearted it seems to be. It’s insensitive and garish. If it were from a better filmmakers, I’d try to find some stronger words… but Oz doesn’t strike me as particularly smart and Schulman is quite obviously, based on this one and his other “writing,” a functional illiterate.

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