Last night I rewatched the movie What About Bob? for the first time since learning I’m Autistic and deeply researching issues surrounding mental health and media representation, etc.
It was interesting. And there won’t be any big spoilers in here for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
First of all, some critiques: Bob’s struggles are often played for comedic value, which was difficult to get through at the beginning. But, still, he’s such a relatable character and was really one of the first relatable human movie characters I’d seen as a child. Many of the same issues with Bob were present in the show Monk as well. Exaggerated and stereotypical situations, played for laughs.
The first half hour was sometimes downright painful, but they did an excellent job, I thought, of showing the anxiety Bob clearly felt about his new therapist being out of town for an entire month (!!!) so soon after being referred to see him.
More than that, it was incredible (especially when I first saw the movie), seeing someone on-screen who shared many of my fears and experiences.
But the reason I truly love this movie despite all the problems with it (which are mostly stereotyping and stigmatization), is that Dr. Leo Marvin’s family is so kind and accepting of Bob.
Anna Marvin (his teen daughter) comes up with a way to let Bob go sailing, despite his phobias. She successfully implements an accommodation! And it’s shown as being not a big deal at all. Yes, it’s played for laughs from the other characters in the movie, but it’s also something that was brilliant because it allowed everyone on the boat to enjoy the day in their own way.
Implementing that accommodation didn’t change Anna’s view of Bob either, as she still insisted that Bob was a wonderful, fun guy who listened to people. Him needing that extra support to go sailing was not a big deal to her.
Fay Marvin (Leo’s wife) is kind and accepting of Bob’s quirks, even while she recognizes that they increasingly bother her husband. She strives to be kind and considerate to Bob even as she asks Bob to leave at one point in the movie, explaining that it would be better for Leo if Bob wasn’t around, but making it clear that she doesn’t share her husband’s dislike.
Sigmond, Leo’s son, is intrigued by an adult who shares many of the same fears he has.
Watching the Marvin family’s acceptance and inclusion of Bob meant so much to me as a young person who had never really felt either of those things from the vast majority of people. Even those who were close to me struggled to be accepting and to include me as much as I would’ve liked.
Seeing a fictional account of the acceptance of someone similar to myself was a powerful, powerful thing. A thing that still transcends the more painful and problematic moments of this film for me.