Dr. Leo Marvin is a successful therapist with a best-selling book out and a gig with a morning show scheduled. He is also veryarrogant.He takes on one appointment with a patient, Bob, who has been transferred from therapist to therapist. Bob has pantophobia — he's afraid of everything. Dr. Marvin encourages a first-name basis, as therapists do, and recommends his book to Bob.Bob's hero-worship for Dr. Marvin begins immediately. Unfortunately for Bob, Dr. Marvin is going on a trip to his vacation house and does not want to bring work along with him. It's a family vacation for a seriously messed-up family. Unfortunately for Dr. Marvin, Bob is not going to give up that easily.Bob learns where Dr. Marvin will be staying and follows, bringing just his essentials and his goldfish. He has subtle encouragement from the locals, who disapprove of Dr. Marvin and are only too happy to let this lunatic interfere with his peaceful vacation.The fun begins when Bob and Dr. Marvin's family meet. Bob almost accidentally helps everyone with their problems — except Dr. Marvin, whom he is unwittingly driving over the edge...
Accidental Misnaming: During his interview with Good Morning America, Leo is such a wreck that when he tries to explain that the "baby steps" approach doesn't usually work as quickly as it seems to have done with Bob, he accidentally refers to him as "Boob" and is too embarrassed to bother correcting himself.
All Psychology Is Freudian: To the point where Dr. Marvin named his son Sigmund and his daughter Anna (the name of one of Freud's daughters and the one to follow him into psychoanalysis).
Angrish: When Bob asks Leo about scheduling five two-hour sessions a week (including Saturdays and Sundays) as they are driving back from the asylum, Leo stops the car, opens the passenger door, and says... well, it's supposed to be "Get out of the car!", but...
Angst Coma: Leo slips into one when a scheme to get rid of Bob ends up destroying his own house. He snaps out of it when his sister Lily marries Bob in the film's final scene.
Black Comedy: For a PG-rated movie, it's surprisingly very dark in places.
Break the Haughty: At the beginning of the film, Leo is confident to the point of arrogance about his new book and the television appearance it has netted him, and is planning on spending the summer showing off how brilliant he is to his family and anyone else who will listen. By the end of the film, Bob's persistence in trying to get Leo to help him deal with his problems (despite Leo's many attempts to get rid of him) and his accidental success in helping Leo's family deal with their problems have rendered him catatonic.
Brick Joke: Leo describes his plan to strap Bob to a large quantity of heavy explosives as "death therapy", a guaranteed cure. At the end of the film, a caption mentions that Bob became a psychiatrist and wrote a bestseller called Death Therapy - resulting in Leo suing him for the rights to the idea.
Busman's Holiday: Leo intends to spend his vacation relaxing (outside his television appearance), but Bob's presence means he effectively spends it working instead, which is part of what causes him to unravel over the course of the film.
The Cat Came Back: No matter what Leo does, Bob manages to come back. He tells him to go back to New York and take "a vacation from [his] problems", but the Gutmans let Bob stay with them so that he can take said vacation near Leo. He tries to get rid of him before his Good Morning America interview, but the crew arrive just as Bob is leaving and he charms them into making him part of the interview. Leo tries having Bob committed, only for the asylum to tell him to take him back as he seems perfectly sane to them. He tries abandoning Bob by the roadside, but Bob manages to hitchhike back to Leo's house ahead of him. All of which contributes to Leo's growing Sanity Slippage.
The Chew Toy: Dr. Marvin. Just to name a few ways in which the universe makes his life miserable, Anna leaves the car at the marina at his suggestion, meaning there is no way for Bob to leave their house when a torrential downpour begins, so that he is still at the house when Good Morning America show up for his interview. When he throws Bob out of his car, he is soon pulled over for speeding, then reverses into a ditch and is splashed with mud by another car when he gets out to inspect the damage.
The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Anna and Sigmund struggle to function normally because of their father's psychological scrutiny, and Leo is completely incapable of getting through to either of them.
The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Leo is the only one who objects to Bob's presence at his house; his wife and children find Bob a delight, and Leo is treated by both the script and the characters as being in the wrong for wanting Bob gone.
Leo makes only token attempts to actually address Bob's psychological problems, focusing more on just getting rid of him so that he can enjoy his vacation. The failure of his ploys to get rid of him lead to his own nervous breakdown.
Bob's previous therapists have been driven insane by his extreme dependency on them, even though nothing they do seems to help him overcome his phobias and neuroses (which only makes him cling more fiercely to the therapists). Carswell Fensterwald, the therapist who directs Bob to Leo, has been driven so far over the edge that he is quitting psychiatry entirely.note In an early draft of the script, Fensterwald inflicts Bob on Leo in revenge for Leo getting him expelled from Harvard years earlier.
Disproportionate Retribution: The Gutmans unleash Bob on Dr. Marvin and his family simply because the psychiatrist bought the house they wanted to buy.
Dr. Jerk: For a therapist, Dr. Marvin seems to have a staggering lack of compassion not just for his patients but for his own family, exemplified by his almost casual reaction to the news of Bob's (fake) suicide.
Dysfunction Junction: Part of the reason Bob is welcomed by Leo's family is that they have problems of their own (such as Sigmund's obsessive fear of death), and he is able to relate to them more easily than Leo is.
Epiphanic Prison: Bob, unaware that Leo has tied him to explosives to kill him, interprets the ropes as a representation of his own internal psychological knots, and so by untying the ropes binding him, he can untie the psychological ropes that prevent him from functioning normally... and he proceeds to do both of those things.
Establishing Character Moment: When Leo prescribes that Bob read his book, he pretends to scan his bookshelves looking for a copy when there's obviously an entire shelf of them prominently placed. False modesty much?
Evil Laugh: Dr. Marvin gives a pretty funny one each time he thinks he's finally rid of Bob.
The Fool: Bob. Without even trying, things just work out great for him all the time.
Heel Realization: Sort of — towards the end, after Leo's snapped once again, his family sit Bob down, tell him that he's the one causing Leo's instability and reluctantly inform him that he has to leave. Bob accepts that he's only making things worse for Leo and agrees to leave; unfortunately for him, while he's actually leaving Leo kidnaps him and straps him to a bomb.
Hollywood Tourette's: Faked. Bob randomly shouts profanity (and gets Siggy to start doing the same to distract him from his fear of death), reasoning that if he pretends to have Tourette's, then he doesn't have to worry about really having it.
Hourglass Plot: By the end of the movie, Bob is cured of his pantophobia, and Leo is driven insane and catatonic.
Insult Backfire: All of Leo's insults, threats and, eventually, murder attempts are like water off Bob's back, as Bob is convinced that it's all merely part of the therapy. Indeed, throughout the movie he has nothing less than the utmost respect for Leo.
It's All About Me: Dr. Marvin is this in regards to his patients. He's merely concerned with stroking his own ego over helping people. Over the course of the movie when he attempts to actually treat Bob, he gives him either vague, meaningless advice that could apply to anything, or gives him advice that really has no real ability to help him; such as telling him to simply "Take a vacation from [his] problems." When Bob first walks into his office, Marvin listens to his case with the most profoundly bored expression before just handing him a copy of his book and telling him that it will solve everything (making a note to bill him for said book later). This point is driven home when he receives notice in the middle of the night of Bob's (faked, unbeknownst to him) suicide early in the film. His reaction is to nonchalantly say that they shouldn't let it spoil their family vacation and promptly goes back to sleep, his lack of concern making him look very insensitive.
Jerkass: Dr. Marvin has let his professional success go to his head, at the expense of having meaningful connections with his own family, whom he treats more like stubborn patients than loved ones. Though they still love him, his wife and children clearly find his attitude difficult to live with.
Karma Houdini: Jackass or not, Leo doesn't deserve a lot of what Bob does to him. Bob's "punishment" is getting to marry Leo's sister. It does kind of help that Bob is well-meaning and often doesn't realise the trouble he's causing for Leo until it's too late.
Laser-Guided Karma: Given that Leo is a Dr. Jerk and that Bob doesn't mean to inflict his neuroses on other people (if he was smart enough to understand what he's doing to Leo, he'd be horrified), the whole movie is just the universe evening things out for Bob by letting Leo's previous behavior and treatment towards his family and other people come back to bite him in the ass. Literally, as things get better for Bob they get worse for Leo.
Leno Device: Part of the reason we know Leo is professionally successful is that Good Morning America are interviewing him about his new book.
Let The Past Burn: Dr. Leo Marvin's lakeside vacation house in New Hampshire is a symbol of his financial success at the cost of strained relationships with just about everyone. (His son calls the trip there "another vacation that isn't a vacation", and his neighbors—the Gutmans—hate Dr. Marvin because they were saving up to buy that house.) At the end, Dr. Marvin tries to kill Bob with explosives, but ends up burning down the house instead. This is the straw that finally breaks Dr. Marvin, and in the next scene he's more or less catatonic. And in the next scene, Bob unintentionally shocks Dr. Marvin back into full consciousness. Whether or not Dr. Marvin learned anything from the ordeal is an open question.
Living Shadow: Used in the poster art. While an eager Bob shakes a suspicious Leo's hand, the shadows show a screaming Leo strangling an obliviously laughing Bob.
Loony Fan: Bob was recommended by his last therapist to Dr. Marvin. Bob takes a liking to Leo to the latter's chagrin.
Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: Bob divorced his wife because she loved Neil Diamond. Perhaps the only real bit of psychological help Leo gives him is suggesting he actually divorced her to avoid rejection.
My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Bob's apparent romantic interest in Leo's sister Lily both drives him into and out of catatonia.
Only Sane Man: Leo is the only one to notice Bob's obvious insanity, instability, and inappropriateness. All the supposedly normal people side with Bob against him. Although it kind of helps that Bob, while clearly not very well adjusted, is ultimately pleasant, friendly, well-meaning and likable, while Leo is a cold, arrogant, and thoughtless prick even before Bob enters his life. This is gradually inverted as the movie goes on, with Leo becoming more unstable as Bob begins to get better.
Parental Neglect: The fact that Leo's wife and kids actually get along better with the neurotic and phobic Bob, who had driven previous psychiatrists insane, should tell you something about what a horrible husband and father Leo is, and serves as fuel for the fire of Leo's growing hatred of Bob.
Placebo Effect: Bob taking "baby steps" actually does help distract him from his fears a bit, which is part of what makes him believe that Leo is a great therapist.
Psycho Psychologist: Even considering Bob's clear detriment on his sanity, Leo jumps to murder attempts quickly enough to make one wonder about how stable he was to begin with, and he doesn't seem like a particularly effective or empathetic therapist beforehand either.
Sanity Slippage: Leo suffers this the more Bob gets involved with his family. Conversely, Bob experiences the inverse the more he gets involved with Leo and his family, gradually going from a neurotic mess to a well-adjusted man.
Sink or Swim Mentor: Leo unwittingly and unwillingly becomes this for Bob — the more desperate his attempts to get rid of Bob become, the more Bob assumes that this is all part of the therapy, and the more Bob ends up being helped by it, to the point Leo unwittingly helps Bob become a healthy and functioning person.
Small Name, Big Ego: Leo is incredibly vain about his modest success as an author and in getting a television interview.
Stalker Without a Crush: Bob sticks to Leo like glue despite the latter's efforts to get rid of him, as he is convinced that he cannot function properly without constant psychiatric counsel.
Strapped to a Bomb: In the climax, Dr. Marvin snaps and tries to kill Bob by tying him up in the woods and hanging 20 pounds of black powder around Bob's neck. Leo jokingly refers to this as "Death therapy, a guaranteed cure!"; Bob is completely oblivious to how much Leo hates him, so he immediately accepts that this really is some kind of therapy. Bob effortlessly unties himself, but assumes the still-ticking bomb is a prop and takes it with him back to Leo's house.
Stuff Blowing Up: What "Death Therapy" was meant to be. Bob brought the explosives into the house after he got out of the bindings Leo had set tied him with.
Title Drop: Done a couple of times. For example, when Leo returns from attempting to commit Bob to the asylum and then gets a phone call telling him they can't admit him as there's no reason to do so, Fay yells, "What about Bob?" in an attempt to get an explanation of what has just happened.
Vertigo Effect: One of these shots is used on Leo's face when Bob tells him he left the explosives in the house.
Yank the Dog's Chain: After going through all sorts of hell, Leo comes home to a surprise birthday party that his family had planned for him, with his beloved sister Lily showing up. Leo is delighted and it finally seems like things are looking up for him... until Bob shows up and puts an arm around Lily, causing Leo to attack him in a fit of rage, ruining the party.