Mrs. Doubtfire is a seminal early 90s comedy, directed by Chris Columbus. It stands as one of Robin Williams’ best comedic performances and is surely Columbus’ last truly great film, with only his two Harry Potter outings charting as good since 1993.
The story involves Daniel (Williams), an out of work actor that, although loving, isn’t a terribly responsible father. This leads to tension and eventual separation from his wife, Miranda (Sally Field). She’s given custody of their three children as Daniel can’t provide suitable living conditions and is unemployed. After struggling to get a proper job, he discovers that Miranda is seeking a nanny for the kids. He decides to get help from his brother, a make-up artist, in disguising himself as Mrs. Doubtfire, an elderly Scottish maid. From there heartwarming hi-jinks ensue.
The film’s most noticeable element is its amazing make-up, which has certainly stood the test of time. In the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams is completely convincing as an old lady. Columbus wisely decided to keep several cameras on Williams and practically give him free reign to improvise, and it’s very much Williams’ film. His presence is undeniably magnetic as he draws the attention to himself, often by just being the loudest and most animated thing on screen but frequently by being the best thing on it.
Pierce Brosnan’s character, Stuart, stands as a bit of an oddity in that he isn’t an asshole. He’s actually a perfectly nice guy, at odds with the regular genre trope of the new boyfriend being 100% a dick. Another great twist on the formula is Sally Field’s Miranda. At first she seems primed to be the archetypal nagging, mean ex-wife but the film pulls a fast one, portraying her as equally sympathetic to Williams. The children are lovable and endearing, especially Mara Wilson’s Nattie. In her debut role she clearly isn’t fully comfortable and delivers many of her lines in a weirdly stilted but that somehow coalesces to make her even cuter.
Mrs. Doubtfire is a success due to its poignant core and great cast but perhaps most impressive is its ending. It doesn’t go for the full schmaltz that’s almost expected of the set-up and is surprisingly grounded and real for a comedy, straddling the line between comedy and drama, resulting in a great lesson about family and love.
The Good: The cast, Williams especially
The Bad: The 90s fashion
The Ugly: The film is sadly marred by a bout of transphobia, apparently a common theme in early 90s comedies (will the otherwise very funny Ace Ventura: Pet Detective please stand up).