This film forces one to consider the nature of mental illness. It also made me wonder who should be the one to judge a person’s mental health. I’ll bet there’s a few nutty psychiatrists around.WARNING - In order to review this film and discuss its meaning, I have to reveal the ending. So . . . if you don't want to know what happens in the end, please don't read this until after you have seen the film.
"How do you know who’s crazy and who isn’t.?"
Bob Wiley, a man with mild emotional issues, seeks help from a psychiatrist named Leo. Leo sees Bob for an initial appointment. The psychiatrist then goes on vacation, making arrangements to see Bob after returning. Bob does not accept the separation, and therein lies the story.
The characters in this film are superbly drawn, and, this along with the excellent cast, make this film a success.
No other actor could pull off the lead role as well as Bill Murray. His portrayal of Bob, the patient, is one of his best.
Bob is a man who has problems. Leo, the psychiatrist, states that Bob is an “almost paralyzed multi-phobic personality in a constant state of panic who has acute separation anxiety and an extreme need for family connections.”
However, this makes Bob seem worse than he really is. I would agree with the psychiatrist that Bob might have problems, but I think Bob’s problems are only of a mild nature. I would not classify Bob as mentally ill because he is able to function in society. It is true that he is afraid of elevators and doesn’t like to leave his apartment, but when he needs to join society, he can do so. He gets on a bus, sails on a small boat, and even pretends to be a police detective. And, in the scene where he makes jokes to the mental hospital staff, he seems quite sane. The comedic and ironic end to this scene is where, Dr. Tomsky, the head psychiatrist in the mental hospital suggests to Leo he might need to check himself in.
Leo, the psychiatrist, is played by Richard Dreyfuss. He does an excellent job of showing us a man who is disturbed. Leo is anal, repressed, and a wanker. (‘Wanker’ is an Australian term meaning one who is filled with his own self importance – a show-off.) Leo planning for the interview and being so worried about the impression he will make shows he is a wanker. Also, Leo treats patients as below him – he doesn’t talk to them. (Compare this to Bob’s way of dealing with people – his idea about people being temporarily disconnected – a nice concept.)
Leo does have some excellent ideas (‘baby steps,’ ‘take a vacation from your problems’) but his bedside manner is terrible as evident in the first interview. Bob makes a statement and Leo says, in a dispassionate manner, ‘Talk about moving,’ and “Talk about weird’. (Bob could as well have been talking to a computer.) And, even worse, Leo flogs off his new book on Bob. (Leo pretends to look for his book amongst a whole row of them – quite funny actually.)
Leo is a mess. He can’t deal with his children unless he uses puppets, and, at one point, says he doesn’t get upset, or angry. However, I think this indicates he could be afraid to have or show emotions, and is the kind of person that always likes to feel in control. And, to top all this off, Leo has no moral values, ie., he tries to kill Bob. Leo is obviously sicker than Bob.
Sigmund (Leo’s son) is a normal boy. His only problem is that he is on the way to being messed up by his dad. It was actually a good thing Bob came along and, ironically enough, brought some sanity in the life of Leo’s family. One of my favorite scenes was the one where Bob and Sigmund were joking and laughing before Leo came in and told them to be quiet.
Sigumnd’s sister, Anna, is a sensible, mature girl in spite of her father. She is older so she can deal with her weird father easier than her brother. Bob has a positive affect on her.
Leo’s wife, Fay, is kind, generous, even tempered, has a sense of fair play, and looks for the good in people.
The point of the film is that Bob is ironically the true healer, not the psychiatrist. Bob brings joy to the family. He gets Sigmund to dive, gets him over his fear of death, and is a positive influence on his development.. (Bob - the patient - is better for the psychiatrist’s son than the psychiatrist.)
Ironically it is not the psychiatrist that heals Bob, but Bob himself by misinterpreting Leo’s rejections as a form of therapy. The funniest example is Bob calling Leo’s attempt to murder him ‘death therapy.’ Bob felt his being literally tied up represented that he was figuratively all tied up and would explode if he didn’t solve his problems. (This would be a good idea for all of us to think about.)
Another major irony is brought out in the scene where Bob is telling jokes to the staff at the mental hospital. In this scene it is evident that the patient is mentally healthier than the doctor.
I found a few problems with the plot. First, Bob’s family is not mentioned. Secondly, Bob does not like to touch things outside his room without a kleenex in his hand, yet, is willing to touch the floor when he falls on the floor in Leo’s office. (I would think he would be very cringy about touching the floor.) Other than these two issues I think the plot holds together well, and the comedic timing by all the actors in the film is superb.
The writing is clever and witty and the story builds to a satisfying conclusion.
The film has excellent psychiatric tips that anyone could find handy from time to time, even though they come out of the mouth of a crazy psychiatrist. These are the ideas of ‘Baby Steps’ and ‘Taking a vacation from your problems.’
The sound and picture quality of the Dvd were excellent. However, it was a disappointment as there were no features except a trailer and the feature was not anamorphic.Remember, if you run into seemingly insurmountable task, just remember this film and ‘Baby Steps.’
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=859&reviewer=228
originally posted: 08/31/03 20:10:06