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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mrs. Doubtfire


Ithe wake of Robin Williams’ untimely death, I thought I would review one of his most popular family classics, Mrs. Doubtfire.

It’s hard to imagine someone with such an unusual command of the art of comedy ending his life so tragically. Like many fans, I am still bewildered that this could have happened, and at the ripe age of 63, but I guess my confusion reveals an ignorance of the power of depression. Sadly, addiction to alcohol and drugs, and the damage from a sad, lonely childhood, among other things, eventually won out, robbing the world of Williams’ extraordinary gift. However, I am so very thankful that his humor, wit, and one-of-a-kind hilarity are preserved for us and future generations in such wonderful films as Dead Poets Society, RV, Good Will Hunting, Aladdin, and of course, Mrs. Doubtfire

I was a bit teary-eyed when I pulled the DVD from my private movie library and popped it into the Blu-ray. Long ago, I fell in love with Euphegenia Doubtfire, as did Sally Field (sporting an adorable bob) and her three kids, Chris, Lydia and Natalie. The intimidation from those steely, blue eyes, mannish appearance, and strict, British decorum fades away at the sound of Mrs. Doubtfire’s gentle Scottish brogue peppered with “dear” after every other word. With a tongue as sharp as a whip, she has the ability to pinpoint the root of the problem, figuratively cut it out, all the while building up everyone’s self-esteem and getting plenty of laughs along the way. I’m reminded of Tyler Perry’s Madea character and Dustin Hoffman’s Dorothy Michaels in another favorite, Tootsie.

As most of you probably know, when I speak of Mrs. Doubtfire, I am speaking of Robin Williams in drag hamming it up in his usual spastic, almost schizophrenic style. But before the comedy takes off, the story starts tragically with the cloud of an impending divorce looming over the family. Once again, Williams has lost his job as a voice-over actor leaving the financial responsibilities to his high-powered interior designer wife (Field) who has just taken on a fabulous new client, played by Pierce Brosnan. After coming home to their posh San Francisco mansion and finding the house in a wreck, Field takes action and files for separation. Because of Williams’ erratic behavior, he loses custody of the children until the court determines he can hold down a job and attain a suitable place to live.

Since Williams is a man who adores his children and can’t imagine going a single day without seeing them, he takes drastic measures to ensure his rightful place as their father. Using his brother’s skills at theater makeup and prosthetics, he conjures up a disguise of a frumpy, middle-aged English woman with years of experience as a nanny. The disguise, complete with an affected Scottish/English accent, is so good that it fools the entire family, enabling him to land a position as their part-time housekeeper. 

Where Williams was sloppy and irresponsible as a selfish husband, Mrs. Doubtfire is neat and tidy, cleaning the house from top to bottom, getting the children to finish their homework, and making sure a healthy, gourmet meal is on the table by the time Field returns home from work. She even takes the time to sit at the kitchen table and have long, heart-felt, woman-to-woman talks with Field. Before long, the entire family falls for the eccentric English marm, harboring no suspicions that she is really their dad in drag. Not until an inopportune bathroom moment reveals the truth to Chris and Lydia. After getting over the initial shock, they agree to keep Williams’ ruse a secret from Field and Natalie.

There is so much I love about this movie, one of them being Pierce Brosnan, who plays the straight man to Williams’ quirky comedian. Looking dapper and elegant, he is the antithesis of Williams and is a viable competitor for the family’s affections. As he makes the moves on Field, Mrs. Doubtfire ratchets up her sharp tongue, letting zingers fly that make everyone cringe. I have to admit, some of them border on an R rating, but since they come at a fast-paced staccato style from a humorous Williams, they whizz by before the viewer has time to ponder what was said. This is the genius of Williams’ comedy – he always seemed to be one step ahead of his audience, taking us down funny roads full of wonderful jokes and imitations that keep the senses moving at lightning speed!

** SPOILER ALERT **

As in most great Hollywood comedies, there are hilarious romps that keep the audience in stitches while Williams maneuvers keeping Mrs. Doubtfire’s identity a secret from the court liaison, his future employer, and most importantly, Field. But surprisingly, when the truth is revealed, it is done in a way that saves Brosnan, Williams’ nemesis. Even though it was performed in typical Robin Williams’ style, it was a selfless act of love, putting the needs and desires of Field and his children above his own.

The ending is perfect, with the family coming to a place of restoration, though not what many of us Christians would like to see. Williams and Field remain divorced, but he resumes his place in the children’s lives as the loving, funny dad, complete with new job that enables Mrs. Doubtfire to live on and share her unusual love to the entire world.

A final message is delivered by Mrs. Doubtfire on her highly ranked television show, encouraging children of divorce to disbelieve the lie that they are somehow at fault. Divorce is a decision made by two adults that in no way reflects their love for their children. It touched my heart to think that perhaps one broken child might hear this message from a funny-looking comedian dressed like a woman and be delivered from the guilt that comes from a fractured home. This scene alone should be enough to make Robin Williams proud.

Besides the impeccable humor, he has left all of us movie-lovers a wonderful legacy in Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire! Robin Williams, you and Mrs. Doubtfire will be sorely missed!

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