Did anyone else love this film back in the day? I did, so I wrote this review for the wonderful MovieRob‘s Childhood Flashback Movie Challenge. It was so nice to revisit a film that I really loved as a kid, and to see how my understanding and enjoyment of it had changed over time! There were a bunch of seriously nostalgic picks for this challenge, so have a read of the rest of the amazing reviews here. And thank you to Rob for allowing me to submit a review this late in the game!
When I was a kid, I had a huge obsession with the film Mrs Doubtfire (1993, dir. Chris Columbus), so when I learned about the Childhood Flashback Challenge this is the first film I thought of. I’m not really sure where the obsession originated from, but all I know is that there was a time in my childhood where I watched this film probably five times a week and thought it was amazing every single time. I’m now the ripe old age of 26, and Mrs Doubtfire has taught me some pretty good skills to carry through to adulthood. Sometimes when people ring my mobile phone, I’ll answer with “Hell-ooooo!!!” like Mrs Doubtfire did when she had that horrifying cream face mask on (note: this behaviour is restricted to specific people who will get the joke). Also as a result of this film, I know the first couple of verses of House Of Pain’s 90s white boy hip hop anthem ‘Jump Around’ off by heart. With that in mind, pack it up pack it in, let me begin… with my review of Mrs Doubtfire.
If you’ve never seen this masterpiece before, you’re missing out on one of the strangest concepts for a family film ever. Mrs Doubtfire tells the story of voice artist Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) who gets fired from his job. He picks his kids up from school, and since it’s his son’s birthday, decides to throw him an awesome party complete with farm animals and millions of kids ruining the family home. Resident party pooper and wife, Miranda (Sally Field), comes home from work after a neighbour calls her to complain about the general ruckus, and shuts the party down. At the end of a nasty argument with her husband, she requests a divorce, which she is successful in attaining; plus sole custody of the kids since Daniel doesn’t have a job, or his own home. Daniel is outraged at the fact that he isn’t able to see his kids, but when he learns that Miranda is looking for a housekeeper, he thinks of a plan. He’ll masquerade as an elderly British nanny named Mrs Euphegenia Doubtfire so that he can see his kids every afternoon and evening. Initially it works out well, but then shenanigans begin to occur as Miranda becomes romantically involved with handsome Stuart (Pierce Brosnan), and Daniel’s jealousy becomes more and more obvious.
When I watched Mrs Doubtfire recently, as an adult, I became increasingly aware of exactly how inappropriate it would be for someone to trick his or her family like this. It’s something only a total sociopath would do, particularly when there are some nasty legal ramifications for breaking custody agreements, not to mention scarring your children for life. But at the same time, Robin Williams is so lovable as both Daniel Hillard and Mrs Doubtfire that it doesn’t seem weird at all. Daniel’s strange actions are framed within the context of loving his kids so much that he’ll do anything to see them, which is believable, and also a little bit heartbreaking.
As for the story, it’s filled with lots of funny moments, mostly boiling down to the big joke that Robin Williams is a tall and hairy dude playing a quaint, elderly British woman. Some of the jokes are a little bit dated, due to the fact that the film is now more than 20 years old, but the slapstick moments are just as funny as they were when I was a child. I think what this film captures the best is the sense of grief that can occur during a nasty parental separation, for both the kids and the parents. I really like that this film didn’t shy away from showing the differing effects that this has on both kids and adults, and I loved the note that the film ended on with regards to explaining divorce to kids, and giving examples of different families that can exist outside of the normative ‘nuclear family’ setup. The general sense one gets after finishing this film is one of acceptance and inclusiveness of different types of families, which is always a good thing.
The direction and music is fairly standard for a family film from the 90s, but the story development is surprisingly believable, due to Robin Williams’ sensitive handling of the film’s emotional moments. It’s interesting to note that Mrs Doubtfire won an Oscar for Best Makeup back in 1993, the year that Schindler’s List took out the big prize. Robin Williams won a Golden Globe for his performance, and the film also won a Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy. At the time, the film received mixed reviews, but it seems to have become iconic over time, being referenced in television shows such as Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother. Also, apparently as of April this year, a sequel is in development, with Williams set to return as the titular Doubtfire!
Does watching Mrs Doubtfire as an adult match my childhood experience and obsession with this film? Sort of. I think any adult in 1993 must have watched this with a thick layer of cynicism regarding the central premise of a person breaking strict legal guidelines in such an overtly rebellious and dramatic way, especially when children are involved, and in a way this is how I responded when watching the film now, even though I understood more of Daniel’s pain regarding not being able to see his kids. I also found some of the moments at the apex of the film’s conflict to be almost painfully awkward, instead of childishly funny; although the rest of the humour still lands. However, over a long period of time, Mrs Doubtfire holds up quite well. I think my understanding of this film has changed over time to have more of an appreciation for the more emotional and/or sentimental aspects of the film. It’s not just a film about a man in drag pretending to be a British nanny and doing some funny things; it’s also about how different people respond to the grief associated with parental separation. Plus it’s still hilarious how Mrs Doubtfire’s chest gets set on fire after leaning over a stovetop. That never gets old.
Watch the trailer here.
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