Sunday 11 August 2019

Movie Review: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

A cross-dressing comedy, Mrs. Doubtfire showcases the talents of Robin Williams but otherwise relies on obvious humour and simplistic emotional hot buttons.

In San Francisco, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is a fun-loving actor married to interior designer Miranda (Sally Field). Daniel adores his three kids, teenagers Lydia (Lisa Jakub) and Chris (Matthew Lawrence) and the younger Natalie (Mara Wilson). After a raucous birthday party all but wrecks the house, Miranda decides she can no longer tolerate Daniel's juvenile antics and initiates divorce proceedings. He loses child custody and is heartbroken.

When Miranda advertises for an after-school housekeeper Daniel adopts the elaborate disguise of an elderly British nanny, calls himself Mrs. Doubtfire and secures the job, gaining the opportunity to see his kids a few hours each day. Ironically, Mrs. Doubtfire is tidy and responsible, and both Miranda and the kids are thrilled with her presence and homely advice. But life gets more complicated when Miranda starts to explore a romance with rich client Stu Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnan), and Daniel pursues a real career opportunity as a children's television show host.

A comedy tailor made to unleash Robin Williams' comic excesses, Mrs. Doubtfire is two hours of accents, impersonations, and unconstrained and barely filtered jokiness. Most of it is funny, but little of it is sophisticated. Director Chris Columbus is happy to allow Williams to run loose, and makes no attempt to rein in his star.

The result is a broad and vivid comedy riding on the coattails of a simple concept, Williams in drag pretending to be a prim and proper English nanny. The plot evolves marginally to Daniel's determined efforts to disrupt ex-wife Miranda's new romance while scrambling to land a real job. Without ever getting serious about anything other than a father's love for his children, the film waves in passing at several themes including the devastating impact of divorce and the evolving nature of couplehood.

It all comes to a climax at a restaurant scene where Daniel has to be in both his real and adopted personas at the same time, and Columbus rumbles through this interminable sequence with the elegance of a dancing bear.

Nevertheless, there is no questioning Williams' talent to extract laughs out of any situation, nor his commitment to the role. He disappears under layers of clothes and makeup to bring Mrs. Doubtfire to life, and once he inhabits her bodysuit, wig and face, Williams creates and sustains a memorable and convincing dotty housekeeper. But despite all the juvenile physical humour and flapping of arms, the running time is too long, and the primary gag of Daniel having to frantically change clothes in short order to fool the right people at the right time is overused.

Mrs. Doubtfire sets the energy level at eleven, but it flares in all the obvious directions.

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  1. and yet it is still regarded by many as the most memorable and favourite robin williams film ahead of good morning, vietnam, dead poets society and good will hunting. I still think it is a highly entertaining and very good comedy. Is it my favourite Robin Williams film, though? No, but subjectively, for me, I loved Hook - and that film wasn't well received by many.

    1. Yes, popularity and quality don't always align, and that's ok; and it's great that we can all have individual opinions about movies, no matter what the critics or the public say.


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