Movie Review: "Mrs. Doubtfire"
Rating: PG-13 (some sexual references)
Length: 125 minutes
Release Date: November 24, 1993
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
"Mrs. Doubtfire" is a fun comedy that shows the desperate measures a father will take when trying to spend time with his children. Based on the novel "Alias Madame Doubtfire" by Anne Fine, the film version of "Mrs. Doubtfire" was brought to life by director Chris Columbus ("Home Alone" and "Adventures in Babysitting"). Several movies have taken on the serious topic of divorce in recent years, but few do it with the lightheartedness and all-out hilarity seen in "Mrs. Doubtfire." For all the gravity of the scenario, Robin Williams and Sally Field give stellar performances as a divorced couple trying to raise children across two households.
In the film, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is a voice actor who quit his job rather than play the voice of a cartoon character who smokes cigarettes. His childlike nature makes him the "fun parent" in the eyes of his three children, Lydia (Lisa Jakub), Chris (Matthew Lawrence), and Natalie (Mara Wilson). Daniel's wife Miranda (Field) is a high-powered businesswoman who thinks her husband is irresponsible and immature. A serious incident involving a birthday party proves to be the final straw for Miranda, prompting her to file for divorce. At the first divorce hearing, the judge notes Daniel's lack of employment and appropriate living environment for children, and grants Miranda full custody of the children.
When Miranda mentions to Daniel that she intends to hire a nanny to clean and take care of the children, Daniel sabotages Miranda's classified ad and calls his ex-wife as a variety of dubious characters who are responding to the ad. Desperate to see his children more, Daniel takes on the persona of Mrs. Doubtfire, a sweet older British woman with spunk, and lands the nanny job, taking care of his own children, who don't realize who he really is.
Although the screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon is decent, the actors' performances make this film the timeless classic that it is. Robin Williams once again shows that not only is he laugh-out-loud funny, but he also has a deep tender side. He relates easily on film to his onscreen children, both as Daniel Hillard, the father who's trying to improve himself for his kids, and as Mrs. Doubtfire, the strict disciplinarian who "makes a mean cup of cocoa." In the scene where Daniel and Miranda explain to the children that they're divorcing, it's Daniel's deep heartbreak that comes through. Anyone familiar with Williams' work will expect him to deliver laughs, and he does, but it's refreshing to also see him show a sensitive side. Luckily, in "Mrs. Doubtfire," he does both expertly.
As stressed-out working mothers go, Miranda Hillard is one of the most frustrated and uptight at the beginning of the film. Sally Field does a fabulous job of portraying a woman who tries to hold it all together. As the movie progresses, we find Miranda under even more stress as a newly single mother to three children. Field is at her best when Miranda starts to crack under pressure, and she reminds us all that she really is a great comedic actress. The scene where Miranda discovers Mrs. Doubtfire's true identity is one of the funniest in the movie. Few people can break down in a way that makes you want to scream with laughter, but Field pulls it off easily.
In "Mrs. Doubtfire," the children are the common denominator and the true focus of the film. As Lydia, Chris, and Natalie Hillard, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, and Mara Wilson steal the show. In the movie, Chris and Lydia are the first to discover Mrs. Doubtfire's true identity and do so purely by accident. The hilarious scene between Lawrence and Jakub where he's trying to explain that Mrs. Doubtfire is really a man shows that these kids are just as good as the seasoned actors who play their parents. Wilson plays the youngest child Natalie as sweet and precocious, and she gives some of the wittier comebacks in the film.
"Mrs. Doubtfire" has two sides: the uproarious side when Robin Williams' blink-and-you'll-miss-it brand of comedy has everyone laughing out loud and the more tender side that reminds you this is really a movie about what happens to the children of a contentious divorce. The actors are able to balance those two moods expertly in the film, and the children give great performances as kids who love their father, but are ready for a little more structure and balance in their lives.