90s Movie Challenge Week 11: Mrs Doubtfire (1993)

Welcome back pals, for another round of 90s-tastic fun. This week Chris Lupton finds his inner-granny and takes us by the hand to the second most successful film of 1993.

It’s Robin Williams’ dual role comedy, Mrs Doubtfire!

Helloooo! (if you can’t hear Williams screeching this in your head, you need to stop what you’re doing and watch Mrs Doubtfire immediately)

Ah, Mrs Doubtfire. Possibly one of the most classic family films of all time (I don’t even feel like there’s any contest in that claim).

I can’t recall the first time I saw Chris Columbus’ 1993 comedy-drama; rather that it’s been a staple existence in my life like Father Christmas, the BBC or Cheddar Cheese for as long as I can remember – and the beauty of it as a film is that it never gets old. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen this film (willingly through rentals, home recordings or streaming – or unwillingly through TV broadcasted repeats when channel hopping). Mrs Doubtfire is, without doubt, one of the greatest family films of not only the 90s but of all time; and here is why.

If you’re one of the few individuals existing under a rock on the dark side of the moon who hasn’t seen the film, I’ll quickly set the scene; a marriage breaks down (Robin Williams and Sally Field), leading to a divorce that tears apart a family of 5. Determined to see his children, the father (with the aid of some latex and padding), dons the personality of the grandmotherly figure of Mrs Doubtfire and goes undercover in his former family home as a nanny, where mishaps and learnings abound.

The film itself is packed with a tight cast of central characters, performed perfectly by every member with believable gusto. From Robin Williams consistent comic relief to Sally Field’s heartbroken, business-focused divorcee, we’re given not just a cast of actors portraying a statistically common family breakup – but an intimate portrayal of the effects of divorce and breakups on each member of a family.

The amazing and hilarious Robin Williams as the titular Euphegenia Doubtfire

Robin Williams casting in this film is a personal favourite of mine throughout his legendary career. As we now know, the comic genius was plagued with depression and anxiety for most of his life, so it’s always hard to look back on a lot of his work and not associate that time of his life with the wonder of what might have been going on behind those shiny eyes (we see glimmers of sadness and angst amongst the films more poignant moments). His portrayal of Daniel Hillard, a childish, joyful character with no maturity given his fatherly role to 3 children of varying ages is both a delight and a sadness at the same time, and in my opinion, could be carried by no other (It’s well documented that Tim Allen was originally auditioned for the title role, and whilst he’s a great comedy actor, it’s a true turn of fate that Robin Williams was taken onboard and cast instead).

Poor Miranda Hillard, who wears this expression for most of the film’s runtime, portrayed by the excellent Sally Field

Cast opposite Williams is the mesmerising Sally Field as his long-suffering wife/ex-wife. As a child, I grew a great disliking for the character (which unfortunately carried across into the actor, thus always thinking of her as ‘that crotchety old homewrecker from Mrs Doubtfire’). It’s only on viewing for this review that something became clear to me, and it’s in the nuances of Field’s performance that the character becomes more defined and endearing.

She carries the emotional gut of the film in bounds, her broken heart and wavering relief as she rediscovers love for the first time in years is magically captured, and I found myself warming to her enthusiastically. Learning that Field herself was going through a divorce at the time of filming Mrs Doubtfire lends a lot more believability to her portrayal, where you can see the true raw emotion of a woman bereft of support in a marriage and at the end of her tether.

The Supporting Cast (L-R) – Pierce Brosnan, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson and Lisa Jakub

Supporting these two acting titans is a veritable cast of actors that are so perfectly suited, the entire film feels utterly captivating. In other films, the wrong casting choice can throw a scene or a subplot, but from Anne Haney’s Mrs Sellner (Hillard’s social worker) to Mara Wilson’s acting debut (the Hillard’s youngest daughter, Natalie) – every actor is perfectly attuned to both Williams and Field and the story within.

The magic ingredient behind Mrs Doubtfire is in the contrast between its comedy (driven largely and mostly by Williams himself – who famously had so many outtakes, the film was rated PG, PG-13, R and NC-17) and its emotional, moving parts.

It deals with a very difficult subject matter (one I’m not personally familiar with, but I know many are), and doesn’t dance around the reality of the situation, but carefully balances it with perfectly timed (and often ad-libbed) humour. It talks to children and to parents, husbands and wives and does it with such conviction that it doesn’t come across as tacky or insincere. It’s for this reason, that Mrs Doubtfire will always have a place in my collection.

Mrs Doubtfire itself is a story about a man’s unconditional love and heartbreak for his children, and a woman rediscovering life after love and I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t have been as successful had they not cast Williams and Field in the leading roles.

“But if there’s love, dear, those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be all right. Bye-bye.” Mrs Doubtfire not only talking to a child, but breaking the fourth wall.

Next time:
Friday. Choose World Geekly News. Choose 90s Movie Challenge. Choose Matt Adcock. Choose 1996. Choose Trainspotting.

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