By Brad Grandrino
For all the ceaseless nostalgic love the 1990s gets from folks all over the internet, the decade was not very kind to Bill Murray – or, rather, not nearly as kind as the ‘80s were. While they certainly brought with them Murray classics like Space Jam and Groundhog Day, the ‘90s also gave us Larger Than Life, Kingpin and The Man Who Knew Too Little. But for some people – the folks who could be sated simply with the very presence of Bill Murray – those flicks really weren’t so bad. I may not be one of those people, but I will defend The Man Who Knew Too Little until the day I die.
I have loved The Man Who Knew Too Little since I was a little kid who didn’t entirely understand the plot – I was The Kid Who Knew Too Little. All I knew was that this Bill Murray fellow could make me laugh like nobody could, and here he was doing it again. The Man Who Knew Too Little is that kind of movie. You don’t need to completely understand what’s going on, because it’s just pure fun. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But if you shut off your brain, you’ll enjoy the ride for the silly spectacle it is.
Bill Murray is Wally, an American who spends an evening engaged in a groundbreaking new English play where the single audience member actively participates in the plot – but unbeknownst to Wally, he’s accidentally caught in the middle of a legitimate espionage operation. The laughs come rolling in as Wally prances his way through what he thinks to be a harmless immersive play, somehow managing to dodge bullets, take down top-of-the-line spies and woo a femme fatale played by the effervescent Joanne Whalley. The Man Who Knew Too Little is like the lovechild of Quincy Magoo and James Bond, and the result is just as fun as it sounds. Regardless, the film has been critically panned, which leads me to wonder: Why can’t we have fun things?
And speaking of fun, what about What About Bob?? The ‘90s were responsible for some of the best comedies: Clerks, Dumb and Dumber, Dazed and Confused, Wayne’s World, etc. Some of the decade’s once beloved comedy films might not really hold up too well two decades later, but the Frank Oz classic What About Bob? is still just as uproariously funny as it was in 1991.
Bill Murray is the lovably insane titular patient of Richard Dreyfuss’ Dr. Leo Marvin. Bob Wiley fakes his own death and proceeds to stalk Dr. Marvin and his family to their vacation home, where he sticks to them, as Leo Marvin puts it, “like human crazy glue,” inevitably driving the doctor off the edge. If this sounds more like the description of a horror film than a funny flick, that’s because it basically is. Replace the silly, light-hearted Miles Goodman score with something a little more John Carpenter-esque and this movie becomes It Follows starring Bill Murray.
There is a long-standing trend in comedies where the main character endlessly and not-quite-deservingly suffers to the delight of his cringing audience. Such films often employ tropes like The Thing That Would Not Leave, Only Sane Man and Karma Houdini – all of which are at play in What About Bob?. But we never really cringe when Leo Marvin suffers under Bob Wiley’s omnipresent reign, because Dreyfuss’ character, while human and thereby flawed, isn’t easy to sympathize with. He’s actually an arrogant dick.
Sure, it’s understandable why Leo Marvin is a dick, and sure, Bob Wiley is a flagrant pain in the ass, but he’s a good-natured pain in the ass. He’s more a mosquito bite in the ass. Many of these psychological themes encompass What About Bob?, increasing its ingenuity, because lo and behold Richard Dreyfuss’ character is a psychologist. This reinforces why What About Bob? remains to this day a spectacularly crafted comedy and one of the most memorable performances of Bill Murray’s career.
Now it’s time to unwind. By which I mean the complete opposite of unwinding, because I’m going to briefly pause the viewing of Murray comedies and put on Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers.
I must say, I may have made a mistake in watching Broken Flowers mere seconds after finishing What About Bob?. The two films couldn’t be more different. In Broken Flowers, Murray is an aging Don Juan-type (fittingly named Don) who discovers he has a child with an anonymous ex. After putting together a list of ex-flings who could potentially be the mother, Don sets out on a weird trip to visit the women of his past and figure out with whom he had a son. Don’s exes consist of familiar beautiful faces such as Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton, most of whom have, since leaving Don, established various unusual lifestyles. I found this oddball dramedy somewhat jarring, as it caught me off guard in a dazed, residual high from What About Bob?, and tossed me into a weird void where I’d land right in the backseat of the Taurus Don drives around while visiting his exes.
By no means is Broken Flowers a bad movie – I actually enjoyed it thoroughly – it’s just the type of flick you’ve got to be in the right mood to properly sit through. It’s bizarre in a realistic sort of way, meaning that the strange characters scattered throughout wield totally plausible albeit highly abnormal personalities. They’re downright intriguing to the point where you really want to hate Bill Murray’s Don Johnston, because you have to wonder how the hell he ever messed up with half these gals. Or maybe that’s the point.
Accompanied by a mostly Ethiopian jazz soundtrack and pretty cross-country imagery to set the tone, Broken Flowers proves to be a bittersweet if not somewhat slow work. It’s worth a watch if you’re feeling disgruntled about the wasteful passing of time, if you’re looking back at past romances with apathetic regret or if you just got dumped by Julie Delpy.
While we’re in the weird territory, let’s eradicate the emotional low I’m feeling from Broken Flowers and end this segment with something goofy – one of my personal favorites which I’m likely to get castigated for enjoying: Osmosis Jones. Yes, this movie is highly regarded as horrendous and disgusting, but I love every second of it. From stuff like posters reading “Peace in the Middle Ear” to The Zit being a seedy night club featuring performances by Kidney Rock, Osmosis Jones is boundless biological brilliance.
The body part puns are as plentiful as they are hilarious, so if you’re not into puns (which makes you a joyless jerk) you won’t be able to enjoy this movie (or much else in life). It’s also a buddy cop flick worthy of sitting on the ranks of Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and every other Shane Black movie. The animation is incredible (utilizing the talents of artists who worked on The Iron Giant), the characters are great, the villain is horrifying and 90% of the flick takes place inside Bill Murray, being the only movie to date to do so. Where else can you find a white blood cell cop who sounds like Rufus the thirteenth apostle team up with the cold pill version of Niles Crane to take down a deadly virus voiced by Morpheus? Nowhere, that’s where.
Osmosis Jones is a completely original and insanely clever animated motion picture that, for whatever reason, just couldn’t survive the high fever of box office bombing and harsh film critic flu. Is that enough illness-related puns? No, I don’t think so.
-The movie, for some, was hard to swallow.
-Critics really wanted to get it out of their system.
-I guess you could say it made them sick.
Okay, I’m done. Sorry.
Maybe Osmosis Jones was ahead of its time. Or maybe it really was a piece of shit and I’m just as crazy as Bob Wiley. I guess we’ll never really know for sure.