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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Retro Movie Review: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) #RobinWilliams

Mrs Doubtfire  
Cast: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson, Harvey Fierstein, Robert Prosky
Genre: Comedy
Estimated Worldwide Gross: $441,286,003

Trivia: the prosthetic mask used by Robin Williams as Mrs Doubtfire was actually a prop. The real make-up was made up of 8 separate pieces

Plot: Troubled that he has little access to his children, divorced Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) hatches an elaborate plan. With help from his creative brother (Harvey Fierstein), he dresses as an older British woman & convinces his ex-wife, Miranda (Sally Field) to hire him as a nanny. 

'Mrs Doubtfire's Irritations Brings Out Robin Williams's Most Memorable & Famous Role - If Not Remarkable Movie of His'

It's funny you know sometimes, how some of the things you loved and enjoyed as a child or teenager back in the days, that when you revisit it a decade or so later as a grown-up, you notice that it wasn't and isn't all that it is cracked up to be. That is partly because when we were younger, we don't think about it on a deeper or sub-conscious level. We just consume things as they are from the director's perspective; you just don't contemplate what the hidden messages were and are. You just buy into it, because with films, their main purpose is to entertain, rather than to enlighten and make us think. 

Having said that, we all read movies, TV shows differently and interpret events in our own ways; what some may find amusing, others will find that same thing irritating. What many people would consider as brilliant or excellent, there is a small or considerable majority or minority who feel the exact opposite, and vice-versa. 

That has been the case with so many movies that I have watched; & this particular statement echoes how I feel towards the Robin Williams 1993 flick, Mrs Doubtfire: that somewhere down the line, Mrs Doubtfire moved on from being a really outrageously funny and hilarious comedy movie in the early '90s to an overly decent flick, after countless and repeated viewings. 

I used to watch this film repeatedly when it came out on video in 1994 and practically got sick of it. Having recently caught up with it on TV for the first time in aeons, and having avoided watching it on DVD, and as I also own it on DVD as part of my Robin Williams collection, it seems to me that my perceptions and views on it are less pessimistic and slightly more optimistic. And though it is not without its flaws, watching Mrs Doubtfire for the first time in say over 8 years or so, it definitely deserves a place in anyone's Robin Williams collection. Even with the flawed characters and plot-holes. 

Daniel is devastated when his estranged wife, Miranda grants a divorce and after 20 years, their marriage is over. Desperate to see his three children, he disguises himself as a Scottish housekeeper under the pseudonym of Mrs Doubtfire and unknownst to Miranda, he lands the position and works as a nanny. 

The premise is nothing that has been attempted before - although arguably it does tread on familiar territory as in Tootsie, with the struggling actor dressing up in drag as a woman. & contrary to most people, Tootsie is not a rip-off of Mrs Doubtfire, given as Tootsie came out in 1982, years before Mrs Doubtfire. Concept-wise, Mrs Doubtfire is Tootsie meets Kramer vs. Kramer, which are also the titles of movies starring Robin Williams's co-star in Hook, Dustin Hoffman.

Still, there are several issues with this film that I am going to touch upon & highlight.

The first being one can easily get bored and tired because time after time, in seeing the same jokes, puns and gags over and over, it loses its humour and some of its appeal. Alas, making it less funny and amusing. 

Secondly, Robin Williams is a jack- of- all- trades: he can do comedy, drama, action-adventure (Jumanji and Hook), the whole she-bang. Unfortunately, more evidently so with Jack, What Dreams May Come and Bicentennial Man & from the mid-2000s onwards, the same cannot be said about some of the projects he chooses to assign himself with. That's not to say I completely knock his role in Mrs Doubtfire - he gives a good account of himself as Daniel Hillard & I can't really think of another performer playing that character, especially a comedic performer who could pull off a performance as convincingly well as he did in this movie. But as good as it was, I cannot say the same thing about Daniel himself. At times, I just find him childish, moody and comes across as a dislikeable character. 

It's kind of strange how as Daniel, he is a total jerk towards people around him and that when he transforms into Mrs Doubtfire, he acts and becomes a different person. Well, when he pretends to be nice towards Stuart, in his efforts to wind him up. 

The third issue is that some aspects of the movie don't hold up very well and that it comes across as being too sickly sweet, saccharine and sentimental. I know it is a family movie and all, but you don't have to always go overboard with it. Though it is labelled as a comedy, sometimes, the movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a full-on comedy or drama. & yet when it tries to become a full-on drama, some of it is good and yet some of it is also a little overdrawn and feels slightly 'contrived' too. Perhaps dramedy is a better genre distinction for Mrs Doubtfire

The fourth and fifth issues relate to the characters themselves: I'm not a fan of Daniel - in fact, I supported him when I was a child when I first saw this film and felt sorry for him when he was being berated by his ex-wife, of whom I couldn't stand. But over time, I suddenly realised he wasn't the complete saint that he makes himself out to be because what I found funny as a child whilst watching Mrs Doubtfire, as an adult I actually found some of Daniel's antics & behaviour silly, immature and out of order. His incessant whining and moaning on several occasions during this movie though was a turn-off. But he isn't the only character I have a bone to pick with: the ex-wife Miranda came across as not a very nice person, off-putting and cruel and the kids were so banal. One would think after divorcing her hubby, she would take a break from dating for a while, but no - just to rub it in her ex-husband's face, she meets up with and dates another guy (who is an ex-boyfriend from high school), so soon after her marriage break-up. It's no wonder why some fans of this film loathe Miranda. I loved Sally Field in Soapdish and Steel Magnolias, but in Mrs Doubtfire as Miranda, not so much. Like Robin with Daniel, her performance was convincing & well acted. & also her character came across on screen as being very bitter and unsavoury. Both the adult characters, Daniel and Miranda are just as flawed in their own ways as each other. As for Pierce Brosnan, who went on to become the next James Bond after this movie, as Stuart, he looks kind of out of place here as Miranda's muse.  

Back to the kids themselves, I was surprised at how little attempts were made to develop the younger characters, i.e. the Hillard kids and their relationship with their father. Had the film touched upon this aspect more, then I would have cared more about them. And alas, I don't. 

The sixth issue I have with this film is it is 2 hours long- which for a comedy, is frankly ridiculous. A couple of the scenes that exist for trivial reasons, could have been easily edited or cut out altogether. 

And lastly, the restaurant scene during the final third or so of the film should have worked; it could have and should have turned out much better than it did on screen, but the way it was played out was so disjointed, jarring and sloppy, it didn't flow as well as it did. There were too many interruptions, stops that disrupted that flow. 

But one of the few saving graces was the handling of the subject of divorce; it was very realistic, especially the ending. I give credit to the writers for that. I was just thinking to myself that had Mrs Doubtfire been a straight-up comedy, slapstick farce -type of movie, and not have all of these family components, whether or not it would work just as well. Come to think of it (& in all likelihood), most likely so. So, yes it would. 

With a mixture of good and bad writing, some unsympathetic protagonists and dated gender politics, Mrs Doubtfire, for all of its box office success and millions of dollars generated from box office takings, never reaches the same heights as other movies of this type; i.e. Tootsie. The acting performances (but for the child actors) are very, very good; it's such a shame the same cannot be said for the characterisations and characters. You can enjoy an actor/actress's performance, and still, take a disliking to their character. That is the case with Mrs Doubtfire, which is a subpar version of Tootsie set in a family-friendly context. It was the characterisations that effectively hampered this take on the drag comedy formula, as 'terrible' as they were.

The humour and slapstick, like with all of Robin Williams's comedy roles, movie and TV-wise with Mork & Mindy, is there; although some of it becomes tiresome and less amusing after repeated viewings. It is one of those movies where you can't get away with watching it on repeat all the time because by then you'd get bored afterwards. And the least said about the toilet scene involving Mrs Doubtfire and the son, Chris, the better. 

But for a few curse words, it is a pretty inoffensive film that can become too sentimental for its own worth, but also that sentimentality is thankfully undercut by Williams's humourous antics. Which might be a chore for some people, but for those who watch Mrs Doubtfire, just to see Robin clown around, is, at times, fun and entertaining. 

It's strange: this film would have been dire and duller without Robin Williams in it - though the same argument could be used for Tootsie and by taking away Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange, - and yet with Robin, this is still not what I consider to be his best ever effort. Not by some distance. But the film's entire success was largely made up of his performance as Mrs Doubtfire. Even under Chris Columbus's mundane and tame direction, without Williams, Mrs Doubtfire would have easily bombed. 

Being an avid Robin Williams fan & in going through his filmography way back from his time on Mork & Mindy up to his cinematic efforts of the 1980s and 1990s myself, I am going to go out on a limb, and with all honesty say that Mrs Doubtfire doesn't quite deserve all the plaudits it gets, especially as Robin Williams has given far better and all-round performances in movies such as Good Will Hunting, Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings and Hook. As well as playing much more likeable protagonist characters than Daniel in Genie (Aladdin), Dale Putley (Fathers' Day), Adrian Cronauer (Good Morning, Vietnam), Donald Quinelle (The Survivors), comedy-wise. 

Though personally, Mrs Doubtfire is far from the best thing Robin Williams has done in his entire career (with Good Morning, Vietnam being it for me personally), and yet still, it does have re-watch-ability & provides plenty of entertainment. I generally love Robin's style of comedy; that improvisational style with the silly voices. He still makes me smile and laugh through most of the funny scenes and as enjoyable as this film is, but for the kids, Miranda, in rewatching it less frequently, makes me appreciate it slightly- if not more. 

Favourite Lines

'Broke my bag, the b*****d!'

'I can hip-hop, be-bop, dance 'til you drop, and yo-yo I can make a wicked cup of cocoa'

'Hey Miranda, Wassup?'

'Touch me again & I'll drown ya, ya b*****d'


'The fact that Pudgy the Parrot has a cigarette shoved in his mouth, is morally irresponsible'

'I'll be crazy to make a deal with you!' *in a wacky voice*

'I hope you bring cocktail sauce. She's got crabs, dear, and I don't mean Dungeness' 

'Oh s**t!' (Daniel after seeing his latex mask get run over)


Pros +

- Has some amusing and light-hearted moments

- Good performances by Robin Williams and Sally Field

- Is fully watchable throughout 

- Robin Williams was a hoot

- The initial situation and handling of the subject of divorce was well done

- Highly entertaining 

Cons -

- Dis-likeable, and to a certain extent, unsympathetic main protagonist characters

- The Hillard kids lacked personality 

- Movie being 2 hours long 

- Is a poor man's Tootsie 

- The speech made by Daniel at court near the end felt a little too sappy 

- This movie would be nowhere as good had Robin not been in it


Final Verdict: 

Personally, it is nowhere as fantastic as others have made it out to be. I only bought this DVD to add to my Robin Williams DVD collection. It is not a movie I'd watch all of the time, as it would only lose its charm. That is not to say however it is bad - there are a few other Robin Williams movies on my radar that I consider to be a lot worse than this one (*cough* Bicentennial Man, Being Human, What Dreams May Come & most of his post - 2000 offerings). 

Yet Mrs Doubtfire, as very good as it is, is still arguably the most overrated Robin Williams movie in my opinion: he has appeared in far better fare than this, - and so I am a tad disappointed that Robin will be mostly saddled with and remembered for Mrs Doubtfire, more-so than for the other superior movies and roles he has starred in. 

But Mrs Doubtfire is more of a memorable movie; in the sense that it will be Robin's most well known on-screen role, rather than as a remarkable comedy it was billed as. It is too bad the characterisations (not that it is the fault of the actors themselves, but of which I cite as the biggest problem) had let this film down - because I didn't really take to any of the characters in Mrs Doubtfire, whatsoever. Not even Robin Williams's Daniel. Well not so much, even though a few of his scenes as Mrs Doubtfire puts a smile on my face -, which is kind of unusual for a Robin Williams movie because usually most - if not all of the other character roles he undertakes are favourites of mine. Yet at the same time, it is he who makes it entertaining to watch, moreso than for the other cast members. 

Had the writers & creators spent more time in making the characters more likeable, interesting and appealing to the audience, in addition to cutting down the length of some of the scenes, it would have made the movie far more enjoyable. It's not a completely terrible movie; in fact, watching Mrs Doubtfire less often, as I said, makes me appreciate it more, but it is most certainly overrated. 

Having said that, if you are a massive Robin fan, it is a movie that you have to have in your collection. 


*last updated: 28 February, 2018*

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