We all need a little therapy.
And sometimes we need a story that hits real close to home.
For me, this one does the trick.
Multiple phobias would be an understatement.
And I can relate.
You know, it’s sometimes these types of movies which make me the most weepy-eyed.
But only temporarily.
Bill Murray really knocks it out of the park on this one.
But Richard Dreyfuss is equally essential to the “trading places” dynamic at work here.
And not least, Frank Oz directed a sort of masterpiece with this film.
Bob, the protagonist, would make an excellent spy (in some regards).
His stalking skills are world-class (bar none).
But Bob has no malice in his heart.
He just needs help.
But woe unto the genius who becomes the apple of Bob’s eye.
Yes folks, Richard Dreyfuss’ patience is tested as much as Herbert Lom’s (as Chief Inspector Dreyfus…one “s”) ever was by Peter Sellers as Clouseau.
That is very much the dynamic which is at work in our film.
Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss…”ss”) is a very bright psychiatrist.
He prominently displays his bust of Freud in his office and, while on vacation, at his lakeside home.
His son is named Sigmund.
His daughter, Anna.
And his wife looks much Jung-er than in her picture.
[I couldn’t resist]
But Bob is the kind of guy for whom the “block caller” function on your iPhone was invented.
As I said, however, Bob would make an excellent member of the intelligence community if he were not a practically-paralyzed nutbag.
Bob has problems “moving”.
But, to be frank, Bob has problems with everything.
Each and every activity which most people take for granted presents a unique hurdle for the perpetually-nervous Bob.
And I can relate.
Boy, can I!
Yet, what Bob lacks in conventional “people skills”, he makes up for with an endearing, warmhearted ease that he imparts to everyone he meets.
People love this guy.
If they take a second to get to know him.
And so we start with a patient (Bob) and a doctor (Leo).
But the lines blur early and often.
And so what director Frank Oz seems to be pointing out is something which Harvard professor Clay Christensen pointed out in his book How Will You Measure Your Life? not so long ago.
While Dr. Christensen makes clear that his former classmates at the Harvard Business School all seem to share a certain dissatisfaction with their lives (regardless of their tony jobs at McKinsey & Co., etc.), his thoughts on “disruptive innovation” occasioned an invitation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to speak on this latter phenomenon.
So what I mean to say is this: yes, this is self-help, but it’s serious, serious stuff!
Funny enough, that seems to describe Bob quite well.
Operation Nifty Package could have been shortened by nine days (and spared the royalties to ASCAP and BMI) had a Bob Wiley merely been sent in to chat with Manuel Noriega 1989/1990.
Which is to say, Bob Wiley represents that person we all think we know: the most annoying person in the world.
They don’t come along often.
But when they do (and we are their captive audience), it makes psychological warfare look like child’s play.
So indeed, from the perspective of Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob Wiley must have seemed like a human weapon intent on wrecking his life.
The problem was that Dr. Marvin had become more focused on accolades (Good Morning America) and money than on the excellence of his caregiving.
Dr. Leo’s kids see this quite clearly.
Kathryn Erbe is excellent as Anna. She shows true generosity to Bob and an open heart.
Charlie Korsmo is wonderful as Sigmund. He does the same. He treats Bob as a person, not a patient.
But this film is therapeutic for me in that it shows (albeit in caricature) some of the very problems I go through on a daily basis.
Fear of the edge. Ok, let’s just make this the edge. No no, I can’t see what you’re doing from back there.
Bob has a certain bit of Forrest Gump in him.
Dumb luck. Or serendipity.
But really, Bob is an expert on psychological problems…because he has lived them.
Mind as battlefield. You might see it on the endcap of your local book store.
But for Bob, that’s not just a catchy title.
You’re in a lake…for the first time ever…because someone has just pushed you in…and you are kicking your legs, trying to get back to the pier…but you swim under the pier, because you’re nervous…and all you can say is, “Am I gonna die?”
It’s funny. Unless you’ve lived a situation which maps neatly onto that microcosmic display.
So slowly we see Dr. Leo deteriorate. It’s partly because Bob is so bonkers, but it’s also because Bob is succeeding where Leo is failing.
Saying a kind word.
We don’t any of us hold all of the cards.
You might be beautiful, but you might be a moron.
You might be rather homely, but simultaneously brilliant.
Human talents and intelligence(s) operate on an infinite number of intersecting planes.
For each of our talents or attributes, we are weighed by the “market” of human opinion.
Illustrating that great scientific query: “In relation to what?”
One human in the lonely crowd.
And one attribute in a body and mind full of vast potential.
Bob looks pathetic in a rain slicker at 1 a.m.
With his knee-jerk reactions to thunderclaps.
And Bob looks thoroughly bizarre with his goldfish in a jar around his neck.
But these are the humans we need.
These are the spice of life.
Some would condescend and venture “salt of the earth”.
But I am sticking with spice of life.
What really gets it is when Bob pulls a sort of witless Al Kooper and ends up on live national television via Joan Lunden.
And so we return to patience.
It’s a test.
And patience is its own reward.
You will find the value society places on this most essential human attribute.
Yet, this patience must be tested. Stress tested. Like a bank.
Over years of potentially infuriating situations.
If you make it through, relatively unscathed, there’s a good chance you picked up the tools necessary for significant patience.
But we cultivate our own patience when we recognize its priceless effect upon our own lives.
How many times would you have been up shit creek had there not been a patient person there to pull you in to shore?
If we are smart (and lovers of humanity), we emulate this patience we’ve seen in action.
We make it part of our persona.
But it will be tested!
As in a crucible!!
And so what about Bob?
Bob is the oddity which places us in just the right perspective.
A bit like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.
Yes friends, Dr. Leo has some issues which he is not working through.
He never saw a Bob coming.
He had no contingency for this sort of personage.
And so he is off-guard. Mean. Ugly. Nasty. Snotty. Vile.
Dark humor doesn’t have to be that dark.
How do you deal with your fear of death?
Consider developing a fear of Tourette’s syndrome.
The great Paul Laurence Dunbar understood this concept…that in helping others, we magically forget about our own pain.
One more possibility about Bob as an intel employee. If he found a superior whom he highly respected, there would be a bond of trust which would be invaluable.
This has been Death Therapy, with your host: Pauly Deathwish. 🙂
I saw this film on cable with my best friend we were laughing so hard. I do love this film one on my favorite. Biil Murray and Dreyfus is the perfect casting here. Pure Genius. Great review my friends you nailed it.
Yeah, I really had some good laughs 🙂 Thank you! –Paul