Monday, June 29, 2009

Mrs. Doubtfire



Sometimes, we have to give credit where credit is due. Some feats are so trying with such apparently insurmountable obstacles that their ultimate achievers deserve the utmost in respect and recognition. Thus was the case of transforming the hairiest man in the world into a moderately convincing elderly British woman. In the words of one of Robin Williams' on-screen transformers, "The man has a five o'clock shadow at 8:30 am." These makeup people and professional arm waxers certainly deserve their due.

Mrs. Doubtfire, based on the 1993 novel Madame Doubtfire, was an ambitious undertaking. Sure, audiences had eaten up Tootsie a decade before and publicly declared their love for movies starring cross-dressing men, but you know what they say: it's a hell of a lot easier to turn Dustin Hoffman into a woman than it is with Robin Williams. Though the two movies invite obvious comparisons, Mrs. Doubtfire separated itself in a major way by marketing to children. Sure, a man in drag is funny, but a man in drag to children is hilarious. Well played, director Chris Columbus. Well played indeed.






The movie is one for which audiences were willing and eager to suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to get caught up in the touchy-feely heartwarmingness of it all. We can all recognize that the plot is absurd and unrealistic, but that's why it's a movie. There's no "based on a true story" anywhere about it. It's based on a fictional story. It doesn't have to be real. It just has to be entertaining.

Cresting the wave of popularity of William's voice acting successes in animated films such as Aladdin and Fern Gully, Mrs. Doubtfire's opening scene depicts Williams (as Daniel Hillard) doing in-studio voice-over work for an animated short. Though his performance as a opera-singing caged bird is near-inspired, he clashes with the creative director and leaves the set, thus severing ties with gainful employment.

Largely unaffected by this minor hiccup, Daniel defies his wife's wishes and throws his son (played by Matthew Lawrence) a crazy 12th birthday bash, complete with full zoo and other reckless means of child enjoyment. Daniel's wife Miranda (Sally Fields) comes home to find the house a mob scene, with everyone jumping around to that House of Pain song. Tired of being the bad-cop to Daniel's super-fun cop, Miranda asks for a divorce. Due to his flaky employment and lack of steady income, the judge allows Daniel the miniature visitation time slot of Saturday evenings. Needless to say, Daniel is pretty bummed.

Lucky for us viewers, this sad sack-ness doesn't last for long and antics quickly escalate into insane debauchery. Daniel learns that his ex-wife is seeking a housekeeper and is insulted that he can't be trusted to care for his kids. Instead of handling this in a rational, adult way, Daniel goes for the crazy, voice-talent approach. He intercepts Miranda's newspaper ad and changes the phone number to ward off legitimate inquiries from qualified housekeepers, and proceeds to call Miranda numerous times with different frustrating-inducing traits. Eventually he calls in as the soothingly sweet and highly qualified Mrs. Doubtfire, pilfering the name from a newspaper headline ("Police Doubt Fire Was Accidental").

What happens next can only be described as a clinically, almost criminally insane quest for Daniel to disguise himself as a sweet old lady. In an extremely convenient plot point, Daniel's brother is actually some form of special-effects make-up guru who is just perfect for this job. Although he probably should have considered disguise options before committing to an interview, Daniel hastily retreats to his brother's home and asks, "Can you make me a woman?" His brother is more than happy to oblige, and also happy to waste mountains of time and expensive resources making him look like Barbara Streisand and other near-misses, purportedly for our pure entertainment value. They even through in some Fiddler on the Roof in a sequence where Williams appears dressed exactly like my grandmother in a rainstorm.


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His brother just happens to have all of the necessary accouterments on hand, right down to the jeweled Victorian brooch. Euphoric high fiving, hip-bumping, and chaotic dancing ensue, and Daniel's brother and his partner declare Daniel fit to convince his ex-wife and children that he's a 70-something English nanny full of worldly wisdom, nutritious cooking expertise, and disciplinary goodness.

Of course, requisite hilarity ensues in typical 90s montage fashion. All sorts of what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong situations unfold, such as the hilarious prosthetic-breasts-aflame-in-cooking-gone-awry moment. Unfortunately for Daniel, Miranda becomes smitten with her hunky co-worker (Pierce Brosnan). Sure, it's rough on him, but just try to tell me you could platonically share office space with James Bond without asking him to be the father of your children. Just try!


Image via ew.com

Daniel's son walks in on him in the bathroom, and is justifiably frightened to find that their sweet old lady housekeeper is actually a man. With his cover blown, Daniel 'fesses up to his son and older daughter and implores them to maintain the secret. Meanwhile, Daniel shows some on-air promise while goofing around at his crappy TV studio film-reel filing gig and his boss invites him to dinner to discuss potential opportunities. By pure cinematic coincidence, Miranda asks Mrs. Doubtfire to join the family and her beau at the exact same restaurant at the exact same time. I think we can all see where this is headed.

Obviously, instead of doing the grown-up thing and either a) lying to someone to change the conflicting plans or b) telling the truth, Daniel opts for elusive option c) attempt to change back and forth and eat two dinners as two different people at the same time. Obviously it goes amok, and Daniel's cover is blown as his disguise comes unglued and he is exposed as the father of all frauds. Or frauds of all fathers. Take your pick.

Daniel pleads his case in family court, but to no avail. In a singular sane moment of clarity, the judge revokes Daniel's custody and allows him only supervised visitation. Daniel is devastated, but somehow manages to pick up the broken shards of his life and relegate his creative energy into a new show, Aunt Euphegenia's House, starring himself as Mrs. Doubtfire. Miranda sees the show and in typical movie fashion, immediately reconsiders and allows joint visitation. It just goes to show you: if you're crazy enough to housekeep your children in drag but entertaining enough to bring that character to TV, everything will work out just fine. Really.

If that description was too long and unwieldy for your tastes, don't you worry your pretty little head about it. Someone (not me) put together this handy condensed version of the film. For your viewing and summarizing pleasure, Mrs. Doubtfire in under a minute flat:




Oh, and don't forget to tune in to the next installment of our multi-part series on mid-90s cross-dressing themed movies starring Robin Williams when we examine The Birdcage. What can I say? These were his drag queen years.

29 comments:

K @ Blog Goggles said...

Such a great movie. I think I must've watched it about eight hundred times.

P.S. I'm holding my first giveaway! Check it out if you get a chance :)

lovelila said...

I love this movie! I was watching it with my family a few weeks ago!

Katie said...

I love that movie! I watch it everytime it comes on television!

Fidgeting Gidget said...

I just saw this again last weekend! It's one of my favoritesssth....I mean, not as good as Stuart Little, but close. :)

The New Black said...

LOVED this movie growing up!!

Sunshinemeg said...

I love that they play this one all the time on cable. You can catch clips here and there! It was the best movie!

BZ said...

Still one of my favorite movies!!

Lil' Woman said...

`Love this movie!

Lucky in Love said...

So cool you went to IU! My husband went there too :)

KekeLynn said...

I loved that movie!!!

Lily G. said...

oh, I love this movie. I've seen it so many times!

liliesandgrapes.blogspot.com

Girl With The Golden Touch said...

This is my mum's favourite film, I have seen it SO many times!

Elizabeth Marie said...

OMG I've seen this prob no joke over 300 times. Classic!!

Katie said...

I heart this movie. I think it's actually the last one I remember going to on one of those embarrassing "family outings" when I was in high school. Gotta love those run by fruitings...

Cee said...

I think I could watch this movie every day and not get sick of it! I love the part where he is getting all made up by the brother and his partner. classic

Andhari said...

Wow you're awesome! I watched this movie too much as a kid!

Mr. Condescending said...

my fav part is where he puts the pie all over his face hah!

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

oH MAN....I EFFING LOVED THIS MOVIE.

ReRe said...

dude looks like a lady!

Shannon said...

My absolute favorite part of the movie is when the lady comes to check on him at his apartment and he's trying to hide his costume from her and puts the pie topping on his face and it drops into her coffee. Ahhhh hahaha!

LiLu said...

I bawled my EYES out at this...

but not nearly as hard as I did at Hook.

ROOF EEE OOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Brandi said...

I Love this movie. I watched it a few weeks ago.

for the love of pictures said...

I love this movie. I still watch it every so often. Robin Williams is hilarious!

DocE said...

I loved this movie, although I always thought it was a bit bittersweet for me because mostly I just wanted my dad to be that interested in me... :)

Meghan said...

This movie was great. When Robin Williams threw the limes at Pierce Brosnans head it was comic hilarity at its best.

Just Playing Pretend said...

Classic. Man dresses as a woman and is super good at it. Classic.

Needs Help said...

Oh this movie is such a gem of the '90's!! Still love it :)

Hollywood Sucker said...

Favorite part: when Daniel has the brontosaurus statue and sings "I eat wood...it tastes good...no meat...big feet...I eat wood."

PollyPocket said...

Omg, a run by fruiting!? That's what s/he said!? hahahahaha, that's great! I always thought s/he was saying "it was a run by a fruity", which makes no sense. Run by fruiting. HAHAHA, priceless.

also, to add to hollywood sucker's memory with daniel singing about the dinosaurs, i love the line in the Raptor Rap "yo, yo, see me, I'm livin' bellow the soil...I'll be back, but I'm coming as OIL..." someone had to explain to me as a kid that he was talking about fossil fuels... what a great movie.

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