Mrs Doubtfire

(Chris Columbus, USA, 1993)


Mrs Doubtfire and Bad Boy Bubby are unquestionably the two most grotesquely offensive movies I saw in 1994. They are radically different from each other in every way except one: they both function as pathetic apologias for the modern male, portrayed as a poor little boy lost in a harsh, frightening, modern world. If this is the fruit of the Men's Movement, it's surely time to chop down the tree.

Mrs Doubtfire belongs to a cycle of recent films which portray over-emotional, fiercely sentimental men. Mr Jones (1993) with Richard Gere is the best and most complex movie of the group, because it neither entirely valorises the excesses of its hero, nor dumps the blame for all contemporary problems on women. But this shamelessly contrived vehicle for Robin Williams goes all the way with both ideological sins.

Williams plays Daniel, a voice-over expert in the mould of Mel Blanc, who runs into marital problems and finds himself deprived of his beloved children. Like Mr Jones, Daniel is boyish, hyperactive, impulsive and irresponsible. Unlike Mr Jones, Daniel is clearly offered as a completely lovable male role model, both for the other characters and us in the audience.

Sally Field is saddled with perhaps the worst role for a woman in recent screen memory. As Daniel's disgruntled wife Miranda, Field gets to screech and whine like a bitch, causing Williams to quake, cry and deliver pained speeches about how he simply "loves too much". Soon Daniel gets wise: he dresses in drag, affects a funny voice, and usurps the feminine role for himself, just to show the women of the world how to do it better.

There is almost nothing I can enjoy in this awful movie. Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, 1990) has an expert way with formulaic scripts, but not even he can keep buoyant a plot structure that regularly stops dead to show off William's desperately frenetic stand-up routines, or to indulge long, unfunny burlesque set-pieces. Only at the very end – in a surprisingly thoughtful lecture on dysfunctional families delivered by Williams – does the glimmer of a better movie peep through.

MORE Columbus: Bicentennial Man, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Nine Months, Only the Lonely, Stepmom

MORE Williams: Being Human, The Fisher King, Patch Adams

© Adrian Martin September 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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