Though Frank Oz hasn’t meant much as a director in recent years, once upon a time he was a pretty successful go to guy. And his 1991 comedy, What About Bob?, is considered by many to be a modern comedy classic. His tale of an obsessive compulsive, overly dependent nut job and his doormat therapist going on vacation together is the sort of movie that friends constantly quote amongst one another, that fans revisit year after year. Is it really that great a comedy though, or is it more the case of a solid film getting propped up to mythic status due to the cult of Bill Murray deifying anything the sad-faced actor touches?
On the flip side, You, Me and Dupree came and went in 2006 without much notice from the public, but not without earning some pretty damning reviews from critics and a decent amount of derision from Internet pundits. This comedy about a newlywed getting stuck with the task of taking in his wayward, eccentric best friend got called words like “lazy,” “tired,” and “obvious” in the film press.
Whether it was due to the overexposure of Seth Rogen and Owen Wilson, who were each putting out about ten movies a year at this point, or the inclusion of Kate Hudson, whose name slotted in as the female lead is usually poison for comedies, people really responded to this one negatively.
But is it really that bad, or was its release just a case of wrong movie, wrong time?
What do they have in common?
Both of these stories are about an eccentric, annoying character overstaying their welcome with a straight laced, work obsessed associate. In What About Bob? you’ve got Bill Murray pushing the buttons of Richard Dreyfuss, and in You, Me and Dupree Owen Wilson is doing his best to needle Matt Dillon.
That’s the starting point, but the way their plots develop share quite a few parallels as well. In both films the annoyances get in good with the protagonists’ families, making them look like fuddy-duddies and pushing them further over the edge of irritation. Tension builds and builds until finally the main characters achieve meltdown.
Why is What About Bob? overrated?
Bill Murray is a national treasure, and he manages to get quite a few laughs as Bob Wiley, but with What About Bob? he seems to be coasting his way through a movie that’s too simple and easy for his comedic talents. The film, though broadly comedic, sees him surrounded by dramatic actors, with no other potent comedic talent to bounce off of. Consequently, his Bob Wiley completely takes over the film, chewing up all of the other characters and spitting them out, and leaving poor Richard Dreyfuss sputtering, yelling, and flailing his limbs while trying to hold up his end of the film, comically, as Dr. Leo Marvin.
Wile E. Coyote plays perturbed more subtly.
The way the characters get thrown together feels way too easy as well. From the beginning, when Bob shows up at Dr. Marvin’s vacation spot, Marvin warns his family that he’s a dangerous psychotic that they should stay away from. And still the family accepts him into their home with open arms. It’s true that this is a comedy of manners, and a lot of the stress the characters get put under is due to their blind adherence to societal conventions, but everyone is instantly being too polite to be believed. Are we really to buy that Marvin’s wife would allow her children to be around a dangerous psychotic, unsupervised, just because she doesn’t want to be rude?
No, instead of acting like real people, the characters here have to behave in ridiculous ways in order to serve the film’s plot. Wiley is a complete annoyance, going far past the point of believability in what he’s willing to try to get away with; even for a mental case. And Dr. Marvin’s breakdown is too cartoony, too complete.
There are several places where he could have found a way to sensibly end things, but instead he’s pushed to the point of attempted murder, which feels like a fairly inappropriate place for a movie this silly to go. If What About Bob? played as more of a slow burn, and built to some sort of outrageous outburst, then it could have been something special. As is, it starts big, goes huge, and ends up being something of a trifle; even if it’s a funny trifle.
Why is You, Me and Dupree underpraised?
Despite any complaints people might have had with Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, or Seth Rogen when this movie came out, the cast is great here from top to bottom. I’ve never understood any complaints about Wilson, as he has charm to spare, and is perfect for the role of lonely ol’ Dupree, he who wails away on himself. Whether he’s pining over a Mormon librarian or putting together a gang of neighborhood kids, he gets big laughs.
Plus, Matt Dillon is such an inherently unlikable guy that he usually flounders when put in the position of being a leading man. But here his obvious dick vibes actually come in handy, because you’re supposed to like him less and less over the course of the film. Add that to the fact that Rogen is funny in a role that doesn’t overstay its welcome, Michael Douglas kills it in a role more strictly comedic than any I’ve seen him take before, and even Kate Hudson is able to get a couple laughs while playing drunk, and You, Me and Dupree reveals itself to be a pretty impressive ensemble comedy.
The way the plot develops and the way the characters’ motivations change is much more complex and interesting here than in most straight comedies as well. When Dupree first moves in with Dillon and Hudson’s characters, he’s predictably brought in by the man, who is his best friend from way back. But, after a while, the movie takes a turn. Dillon’s character becomes increasingly annoyed with Dupree’s presence, and he eventually gets kicked out.
It’s then Hudson’s character who demands that he be brought back. Plus, Dupree isn’t a complete annoyance like most antagonists in these third wheel plots are. Sure he’s eccentric, and he gets everyone around him in trouble, but there are also things that he does really well, and there are ways that his presence makes Dillon and Hudson’s lives better. In a lesser film, Wilson would be irredeemable, Hudson an unlikable shrew, and Dillon a put upon simpleton. You, Me and Dupree changes up the formula, and it becomes a breath of fresh air in the process.
There’s a bunch of fun little Easter eggs hidden in here for film fans too. You get a Last Tango in Paris butter gag, a Goodfellas razor-cut garlic reference, and a callout to one of Raging Bull’s most famous lines. Plus, the merits of Roman Holiday and Fletch get debated. Doesn’t that just melt your film loving heart?
Evening the Odds
I’m not going to argue that Owen Wilson’s career as a comedic actor is equal to that of Bill Murray’s; though I think there’s a shaky case to be made. However, it’s not like Bill Murray is some sort of infallible God of comedy and Owen Wilson is a flash in the pan who had his moment in the sun and should have went away afterwards either.
Hopefully his success with Midnight in Paris will be the impetus for a career resurgence on Wilson’s part, because if he ends up getting remembered as the guy who overstayed his welcome with the unfairly maligned You, Me and Dupree and the legitimately terrible Drillbit Taylor, it will be a shame. But, until we see how things play out, can we all at least agree that both Murray and Wilson were at their best playing father and son in The Life Aquatic? Now that I think about it, there’s another movie that gets unfairly maligned…