Gather round the big white cake we will eventually dunk our collective face in, it is time to sing happy birthday to the movie Mrs. Doubtfire! The hit 90s film is turning 25 tomorrow and wow, were we ever so young? In honor of the movie’s big deal birthday, I set out to reacquaint myself with Chris Columbus’s 1993 divorce and disguise masterpiece.
In returning to a movie built entirely around a man disguising himself as a woman, it has its fair share of antiquated and offensive gender jokes. There are also moments where Robin Williams virtuosic gift for mimicry tips into racial stereotyping. There is also a ton of painfully bad rapping. Oh also gaslighting. Enough internet disclaimers, let’s dive in!
The movie is PG-13, and rightfully so.
I remember seeing this movie as a small kid, so I was shocked to find out that it is 1) over two hours long and 2) rated PG-13. Turns out that rating was the right thing to do because there’s a stripper joke within the first 20 minutes! Coming from the mouth of a 12-year-old! There are also a ton of plastic surgery jokes and sexual innuendos. Clearly Pierce Brosnan’s copious amounts of chest hair and smoldering charisma are NOT safe for the youth of America. Divorce movies for kids were a dime a dozen in the ’90s but this one was certainly designed for an older set of eyes.
Okay, but Daniel is actually a bad dad and terrible husband.
Robin Williams was a once-in-a-lifetime talent and this movie makes full use of his elastic face and whirlwind comic timing. All of which makes Daniel, the adult male character, kind of irritating. He undermines his wife to throw a rager (complete with a curbside delivery petting zoo, a hint of the San Francisco to come!) for his child. He can’t hold down a job. He goads his wife for being no fun. He has trouble wrapping his mind around the fact that he has to pay for the consequences of his actions. Obviously, he starts off as a not great guy so that there’s room for the character to grow, but I was honestly shocked Sally Field’s character Miranda was able to hang in for that long.
There are so many age appropriate romances!
Pierce Brosnan, a hot millionaire with a lot of chest hair and a Victorian inn (MY LITERAL DREAM) has decided it is time to settle down and start a family. What does he do? He looks up his old girlfriend of a similar age, with a powerhouse career, recent divorce and three children and thinks: That’s the one. I love this goddamn movie.
Also there is an elderly bus driver who is besotted with the similarly elderly Mrs. Doubtfire and he inquires about her day and let’s her know that he’s body-hair positive after her stocking rolls down to reveal a hairy leg. This made me sad for some reason I can’t quite explain (gently crushing on someone who is not what you think they are and will never return your affections?), so I’m off to write 10,000 words of fiction about the bus driver from Mrs. Doubtfire now.
The care and treatment given to Sally Field’s character Miranda.
Miranda is painted as a highly successful, incredibly caring, deeply self-reflective woman who just wants the best for her children. She has put up with a lot in order to keep her family together (see: Daniel being a bad dad) but has finally had enough.
There’s an incredibly tender scene between Miranda and Mrs. Doubtfire where she talks about why she had to end her marriage. She didn’t like the people they were together and thought they would be better apart, and better parents to their children.
When Pierce Brosnan’s character Stu shows up to woo her at work, she’s all business. She has moments of badmouthing Daniel in front of the kids at the beginning of the divorce or being short with him when he doesn’t honor the visitation hours, but it’s all very human. She’s clearly great at her job and says wise things like, “don’t be seduced by chintz.”
Also Sally Field acts the hell out of the big reveal scene, which is kind of ridiculous.
Daniel gets a great job in the worst way.
So Daniel gets a super sweet gig by insulting the head of a TV network, involving his family in an elaborate ruse, hanging out alone in an abandoned studio with a bunch of dinosaur dolls, getting wayyyyy too drunk with the TV network exec, making lewd sexual comments with his potential future boss and et voila! He is the host of his own show. The entire career arc made me think of this line from The Good Place because my gosh, how true:
— no context the good place (@nocontexttgp) January 20, 2018
Pierce Brosnan’s accent.
His character, Stu, references being born in London midway through the movie, which felt like an audible after he’d filmed most of his scenes attempting to do an American accent and failing. I like to imagine Chris Columbus saying, “No no Pierce, it’s not a reflection of your accent work, we’re just raising the stakes for the character of Mrs. Doubtfire, now she has to make some stuff up about England on the fly!”
Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire’s got a gay brother and it’s chill.
Campy, yes. Stereotypical, for sure. But Harvey Fierstein as Frank, Daniel’s brother, and his partner Jack, not only provide one of the best makeover montages in the history of movies but are an open and out gay couple and its NBD. Their queerness is commented on once (“Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack,” which is not! great!) but they exist as an extension of the nuclear family in what’s presented as a natural and seamless way. It would also appear that Frank has a better relationship with their mother than Daniel, which seeing a gay couple, albeit briefly, just existing in a healthy and supportive family environment, albeit stereotypically, in a mainstream family movie seems progressive for the time, especially considering it proceeded The Bird Cage by three years. And can we just give Harvey Fierstein all the movies?
A single, unemployed actor can afford a full apartment in San Francisco.
Photo via (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp via Everett Collection.