Monday, April 7, 2014

He's a Lady

Mrs. Doubtfire
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Bronsan, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson, Lisa Jakub
Released: November 24, 1993

Oscar nominations:
Best Makeup (won)

Chris Columbus had a knack for getting families to flock to theaters with his holiday releases (see also Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter movies). I vaguely remember seeing this with my own family and the theater was packed. As a kid, I remember loving this movie and thought it was hilarious and my favorite scene was the one in the restaurant where Robin Williams has to pretend to be Mrs. Doubtfire because the family has invited him (er, her!) out to celebrate Sally Field's birthday, but he also a job interview set up on the same night at the same place and has to keep changing from Mrs. Doubtfire to himself and back again until things start getting out of control and his cover is blown.

But I am getting ahead of myself! Daniel and Miranda Hilbrand (Robin Williams and Sally Field) have three children: Lydia (Lisa Jakub - the only other role I've known her from is Independence Day (didn't she play Randy Quaid's daughter?)); Chris (Matthew Lawrence, best known for Shawn's half-brother in Boy Meets World); and Natalie (Mara Wilson, the Dakota Fanning of the early '90s). We learn that the Hilbrands' marriage has been rocky for quite awhile now and after Miranda comes home from work to find that her husband has given their son an elaborate birthday party complete with farm animals and rap music. They get into a huge fight and end up getting a divorce. Now, I can understand why Miranda was furious with what her husband did, but getting a divorce over an out-of-control party (and was it really that bad? It's not like there were any drugs involved! I mean, if Skylar White can stay with her husband after she finds out he's a meth dealer....c'mon, now!) seemed a little...extreme. But I understand they needed a reason for them to separate. It was just a lame reason, that's all.

I should also mention that Daniel has also quit his job as a voice talent for a cartoon after he has issues with one of the animated animals he voices smokes a cigar. I know they were trying to paint him as a family man who has moral values and wouldn't want his own children to emulate anything they see on a cartoon, but I feel like most people in that position would just turn the other cheek so they could keep their easy, comfy job. 

Miranda gets custody of the children and Daniel, having moved into an apartment, only gets one day a week with his kids. When he is saying good-bye to his kids, he gives his son and youngest daughter big hugs and a heartfelt good-bye, but only a quick hug and "Take care of them" to his oldest daughter! He is told by his social worker that if he gets a job and keeps a clean apartment, he can see his kids more. He is willing to do anything to see his kids more and gets his chance when Miranda tells him she is looking for a house-keeper/baby-sitter while she is at work. While she is distracted by the kids, he takes the ad she is going to mail to the newspaper (I guess they didn't have the Internet in 1993!) and changes a couple of the digits in the telephone number. He calls Miranda a few times, pretending to be interested in the job and makes them as awful as he can so she won't hire them and once he calls in as the perfect person for the job, she will have to hire him. Even though he used different voices, I found it suspicious that Miranda never figured out that it was her husband. Surely she's heard him use some of the voices before or at least would recognize his tone or something. When he calls in as the perfect English nanny, she asks for a name and he sees a headline in the paper that says, "Police doubt fire...." and that is how he came up with the name. Now, if you remember in August Rush, that's how he came up with that name as well...only it was on a truck, not in a newspaper. 

With the help of his brother (Harvey Fierstein) who works in theater, they concoct Daniel into Mrs. Doubtfire complete with makeup, wig, and wardrobe. Now they did a good job of making Robin Wiliams not look like Robin Williams, but you would think his kids would think it's weird that their new nanny is this huge old lady who towers over them...which they do point out, but Mrs. Doubtfire explains that she played football in school because of her bulky build. 

I already told you that my favorite scene was the Mrs. Doubtfire reveal, but after a recent re-watch, I have changed my mind. Now it's the scene where he's come back to his apartment after a day of work dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire and his social worker is there to check on his place to make sure it's up to standard. He explains he's Daniel's (much older) sister from England and that he'll go up and get Daniel, but the social worker offers to go up with her (these pronouns are a bit tricky!) So Daniel has to pretend to be himself and his nanny alias. In his bedroom, he quickly changes out of his Mrs. Doubtfire (while making one pun too many), but in his hurry, his mask falls out the window and is smashed by a large truck. He makes the mistake of telling his social worker that his sister makes a great cup of tea, which the social worker would like, so he has to go into Mrs. Doubtfire mode again, going back into the bedroom to put on her clothes and wig, only he doesn't have her face, so he improvises by sticking his face into a cake covered with whipped cream (no idea why he had a homemade cake in his fridge since it was established he didn't know how to cook - and this was before he started watching Julia Child cooking shows to learn how to cook). He explains it as a beauty mask to the woman. The funniest part is when he's handing the cup of tea to the social worker and asks her if she wants any cream, and a big dollop of whipped cream falls into her cup and he says,"Oh, now you have cream and sugar!" It was so gross, but also hilarious. And I loved how the woman put some of the whipped cream on her own face to test its exfoliating powers.

Before he was (one of many) James Bond, Pierce Bronsan was in this movie as Miranda's old colleague/flame who has started seeing her again. This leads to some awkward conversations between Miranda and Mrs. Doubtfire where Miranda spills her guts to her housekeeper/nanny about her ex-husband. This movie loved to use its full advantage of having Robin Williams and it gives us plenty clips of his many impressions (which seem to go on far too long...), but to me, it's Sally Field who delivers what I think is the funniest line in the whole movie. It's not the actual line that is funny, per se, but the way she says it. When it's revealed that her ex-husband is Mrs. Doubtfire, she (naturally) has a horrified look on her face and says, "You were her the whole time? The whole time?" The way she says it and the angry look on her face is great and made me laugh out loud. 

I feel like a scholar could go more in depth with this movie and discuss its seemingly negative view on transgender society, because, while very subtle, it is there and make me go, hmmm. Of course they play it off as a joke (like when his son freaks out when he finds out his seemingly female nanny pees standing up), but maybe I'm just looking too much into it. 

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