“I just want to know one thing. Are your kids well-behaved? Or do they need like, a few light slams every now and then?”
Sometimes a movie permeates the culture to such a degree, that even without seeing it, it feels you’ve seen it. Twenty years ago, Robin Williams wacked on a dress, a wig and some facial prosthetics and made one of the most famous movie characters to have emerged before or since. I was 12 or 13 when Mrs Doubtfire came out, so I probably had an adolescent chip on my shoulder about not wanting to watch a kids’ movie.
It was only a year earlier that I’d done my best to avoid William’s voice work in Aladdin as well, I assume for the same shoulder chip related reason. But it turns out, I never needed to literally see Mrs Doubtfire then, because, after having seen it now, Mrs Doubtfire’s complete saturation then, and for years later, meant I had basically seen it all, whether I tried to or not.
Robin Williams is Daniel, a fun dad of two. So fun, that he never has time to do any of the serious stuff. Which really shits his wife, Miranda (Sally Field). It shits her to such a degree, she kicks his ass out and makes him apply for shared custody. When Miranda decides to hire a nanny, Daniel uses his skill as a voiceover artist, and his brother’s (the always awesome Harvey Fierstein) skill as a movie makeup artists to invent the titular character. Filling the role of every mother’s dream nanny, Daniel, as Mrs Doubtfire, is soon working with his kids everyday, learning to be a good parent along the way.
Things get tricky when Miranda starts seeing a new dude, Pierce Brosnan as the suave, Pierce Brosnan-like Stu. And here’s where Mrs Doubtfire finally surprised me. Stu isn’t an asshole. He’s not a sleazy opportunist, looking to take advantage of Miranda and ignore her kids. He’s a pretty great guy who genuinely cares for Miranda, her kids and the life he wants to build with them.
You don’t see that kind of character in a movie like this too often. They could have made Stu a real dick, so we’d sympathise with Daniel more. But with Williams in the main role, the film makers realised he’d bring more than enough likeability to the character, so there was no need to double down on Stu’s douchery.
Chris Columbus was on a pretty amazing streak when he made Mrs Doubtfire. As a director, he’d made Adventures in Babysitting and two Home Alones. As a screenwriter, he’d given us The Goonies and two Gremlins movies. While there was a little more subversion in movies like The Goonies and Gremlins, Columbus did a have a knack for sweet, family friendly fare.
Which is why Mrs Doubtfire’s complete saturation then, and for years later, meant I had basically seen it all, whether I tried to or not. Now that I have literally seen it, there was much that I didn’t see coming a mile away, or remember from the barrage of TV commercials at the time. But the combination of Columbus at his G rated best, and Williams in a role he was so perfect for, meant it was still a pretty easy watch.