So I watched Mrs Doubtfire…
I remember half-watching this film in my early adolescence; but I have the sleeping habits of an old man so I fell asleep about a third of the way into it. Not because of boredom, I could fall asleep in a nightclub with a speaker as my pillow. I actually have done that but that’s a story for a different blog, let’s talk about Mrs Doubtfire.
Okay, basic plot: Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is a struggling voice over artist and actor. Daniel is absolutely devoted to his three children and his childlike humour and playfulness makes him a hit with his kids. Though a loving father, Daniel isn’t the best husband which eventually forces his wife, Miranda (Sally Fields) to file for divorce. Daniel – unemployed and practically homeless – loses custody of his children. Miranda struggles to fill the roles of both parents and decides to place an ad out for a housekeeper/nanny. Daniel senses an opportunity to spend more time with his children and secures the job of housekeeper under the fictitious identity of Euphegenia Doubtfire – an English, female nanny.
Any praise that I award this film has to begin with appreciation for the wonder that was the late great Robin Williams. I’ve seen Williams in a number of roles but this has to be the one that feels closest to who he seemed to be in person (or at least in interviews). There’s a montage in the film where the character of Daniel Hillard is showing off the number of voices he can do and it’s a showcase of the talent of Williams. The speed of thought, the never-ending train of jokes, the variety, it’s Robin Williams unfiltered and its a delight to behold. As entertaining as that is though, it’s the moments when Williams is in full drag as Mrs Doubtfire that truly entertain.
This isn’t the first film I’ve watched about a man pretending to be a woman; but this is the first film where the man has actually convinced me that he’s female. Williams completely submerses himself in this role and creates one of the funniest and endearing characters he’s ever portrayed. Yes, this is just a fun comedy but Williams’ dedication and comedic skill elevate the quality of this film to unexpected heights. When an actor removes themselves from a role and displays nothing but the character, that is true acting and that’s the level of performance Robin Williams achieves in this film. He’s funny, he’s likeable but most of all he’s sincere.
The rest of the cast merely make up the numbers and are firmly rooted in Williams’ shadow. This is not to say that their acting is poor, it’s merely generic and ‘cookie-cutter’. They say their lines, deliver the reactions that are necessary but they don’t break the mould and provide memorable characters at all. Pierce Brosnan is the perfect example of this. He’s cast as Stu Dunmeyer – the romantic rival to Williams’ character and if you thought of a list of ten cliches that you’d expect a romantic villain to have, Brosnan would have twelve of them. His character is completely vapid and exists solely to present a challenge to Daniel and serve as a resting spot for our hate. Though the way this film is set up, it doesn’t adequately facilitate our hate of his character.
If this film was a more conventional comedy where the main character is trying to win back his entire family – former spouse and all – then we could hate Brosnan’s character to the core. This film, however, is more about the main character seeking to keep his children in his life. His former spouse is more of an afterthought and, therefore, the romantic relationship she develops with Stu doesn’t hold much threat to our main character’s objective which is to spend more time with his children. Now while this stance does make the character of Stu a watered down villain, it adds a variety to the story that is years before its time. If you think about the direction that many films are taking nowadays where a love story isn’t as an essential part of films as it used to be, you could see Mrs Doubtfire as an extremely forward-thinking film.
Overall, Mrs Doubtfire is Robin Williams at his best. The film is filled with humour as well as a great message about the complexity of family. I think this film will be timeless because of how forward-thinking certain elements of its plots are. But if you choose not to be so cerebral about a movie where a man dresses up as a woman, you’ll still enjoy this film and the laughs it provides.