20 Years Ago
It was a cold and cloudy November day in 1993 when I saw Mrs. Doubtfire. And I was stoked. This movie had been hyped for months and what about it wasn’t worth looking forward to? Robin Williams doing tons of voices and impressions? Check. Robin Williams fooling his own family by dressing in drag? Check. General craziness? Check.
And for a 12-year-old, it delivered. I remember leaving the theater after having laughed for much of the two hour run-time, even if I didn’t get all the serious divorce stuff. I couldn’t get enough of the ways Williams’ Daniel Hillard kept finding new and inventive ways to conceal that he was Mrs. Doubtfire. A “run-by fruiting.” An old lady peeing standing up. Getting hit on by the bus driver. It was the goods and seemed so original at that age, even if the cross-dressing, mistaken identity comedy had been done to death by then.
I remember running into one of my friends while walking out of the theater. He said he hated the movie and it wasn’t funny. I looked at him as if he were a ghost, wondering how a fellow human could be so hollow and possess such a black heart. I remember reading Ebert’s 2.5 star review and thinking he was out of his mind.
20 Years Later
Now I kind of see what these guys were talking about. That’s not to say the movie isn’t funny, but as an adult it certainly gets a whole lot weirder. For one, director Chris Columbus lays the divorce stuff on THICK. And little Mara Wilson. She’s so sad and has that lisp and you just want to rescue her from this madness. This scene is some pretty serious stuff:
Damn. Even as a youngster I thought Sally Field was a biznatch in this movie, and that really hasn’t changed. You also realize how much filler there is. The run-time could have easily been chopped by twenty minutes without really losing anything. The intro montage of Williams’ voice skills goes on forever, as does the interview scene and the extended, central sequence in the restaurant where Williams must play both Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire for two different parties. Admittedly, him getting piss drunk with Robert Prosky is still pretty funny.
Other scenes definitely still work. There’s Mrs. Doubfire having hot flashes:
And of course the run-by fruiting:
Mrs. Doubtfire is by no means a bad movie-going experience and still holds up as vintage Robin Williams, but it’s certainly an odd idea the more you think about it. Could you even imagine this movie getting made today? Not only the cross-dressing part, but also Harvey Fierstein as Hillard’s brother, the most over-the-top, gayest man alive (he made quite the coin playing this part in the 90’s, it should be added)? The film certainly has more darker and serious moments than I remembered as a kid. The ending is as syrupy as they come, but still a crowd-pleaser. The good news is I focused more on the comedy and less on the dumb back story at that age. It could, however, be why Mrs. Doubtfire could also make for a very effective horror movie: