Mrs. Doubtfire (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It seems strange to watch Mrs. Doubtfire and not see Dustin Hoffman. This is, after all, a variation on Tootsie meets Kramer vs. Kramer, both of which featured Hoffman. Here, it's Robin Williams fighting for custody of his children, while donning high heels and a brassiere at the same time.

In terms of plot, the film is rather feeble, but sometimes there's more to a movie than story, and this is one of those rare occasions when all the other elements pull together and lift the production. Mrs. Doubtfire is great fun. Strictly speaking, it's not a top example of movie making, but it offers two hours of undeniably solid entertainment, and not too many viewers can argue with that.

Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) loves his children deeply, but divorce proceedings reduce his interaction with them to one day a week only, which, as far as he's concerned, isn't enough. When his ex-wife Miranda (Sally Field) decides to hire a housekeeper, Daniel sees his chance, unorthodox as it may be. He gets his makeup artist brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein) to turn him into a woman, and he arrives at his old house as the redoubtable Scottish widow Mrs. Doubtfire, who rapidly becomes an indispensable fixture.

The plot of Mrs. Doubtfire is a combination of worn-out formulas, silly coincidences, and weary contrivances. The script doesn't exactly sparkle with originality, and this movie possesses all the signs of a disaster waiting to happen. Despite that, it triumphs. Winning performances and hilarious humor keep Mrs. Doubtfire's strengths far more visible than its weaknesses.

Robin Williams doesn't eclipse Dustin Hoffman, but he gives it a game try. He's not very funny when he plays with toy dinosaurs or does silly voices, but put him in drag and he's hilarious, especially when he's required to undergo a rapid-fire transformation. During the dramatic sequences, which are too numerous and cause the film to drag on longer than it should, Williams shows his lack of range, but at least he's subdued.

Sally Field is pretty much wasted. Her role requires little ability, and she plays it as written. The children give solid performances -- especially the two girls (Mara Wilson as young Nathalie and Lisa Jakub as Lydia). Robert Prosky and Pierce Brosnan manage to impress with exceptionally sketchy stereotypes.

One thing Mrs. Doubtfire does well is to avoid the often-used plot device of turning Pierce Brosnan's Stu (Miranda's new love interest) into a snake. He never comes across as anything but charming, and Daniel's dislike of him is based on purely selfish reasons. In fact, there really isn't a nasty or mean-spirited character in the movie. Imagine that -- a film without a villain.

Everything comes back to comedy, and for the most part, that means Williams. Due in part to his ability and in part to Chris Columbus' sense of timing, most of Mrs. Doubtfire works. It's rare that I recommend such an obviously-flawed movie, but there are times when sheer entertainment and enjoyment win out over the technical and intellectual aspects of film making. Few that see Mrs. Doubtfire will emerge grumbling about wasting time and money, and anyone who doesn't laugh during the course of the movie should check into a morgue.

Mrs. Doubtfire (United States, 1993)

Run Time: 2:05
U.S. Release Date: 1993-11-24
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Mature Themes)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1