Sunday, December 22, 2013

46. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) Poster

Code-name: male nanny

Director: Chris Columbus
Type: cross-dressing dramedy

Daniel Hillard- Robin Williams
Miranda Hillard - Sally Field
Lydia Hillard- Lisa Jakub
Chris Hillard- Matthew Lawrence
Natalie "Nattie" Hillard- Mara Wilson
Stu- Pierce Brosnan
Frank, Daniel's brother-Harvey Fierstein
Jack, Frank's boyfriend- Scott Capurro
Mrs. Sellner- Anne Haney
Mr. Lundy- Robert Prosky

Notable Awards:
OSCAR- Best Makeup
Golden Globe- Best Actor (Comedy/Musical)- Robin Williams
Golden Globe- Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)


I can't place the first time I saw this, but it had to have been around the same time "Matlida" was one of my new favorite movies. They had Mara Wilson in common. She's one of those young actresses that had me wondering "whatever happened to her." As it turns out, she took a much needed break from acting when she reached college age. And from time to time, she'd cameo on an episode of Nostalgia Critic.
As a late-blooming "Boy Meets World" fan (in other words, I started watching the series on Family Channel reruns), I later made the connection that the middle child played Shawn's half-brother Jack on the series. He's also one of the famed Lawrence brothers (funny enough, the middle child there as well).
Not wanting to leave her out of the conversation, the actress who played eldest of the children, Lisa Jakub, had this as her biggest film role... has done very little since and what she has done was on the small screen or indie track.

The opening sequence has you believe this movie was written specifically FOR Robin Williams. Who else can play an actor who is fired because he ad-libs on a dubbing gig? Now those 16 hours of vocal footage for "Aladdin" make sense :-P
In all seriousness, he's doing the voice of an opera-singing canary and ad-libs when the pussy-cat shoves a cigarette in his mouth... saying that he doesn't want kids to be desensitized to the dangers of smoking. Oh well, everything has their time and place and clearly, a PSA has no place in a dubbing gig where you're adding voice to finished animation.

With walking papers in hand, Daniel Hillard picks his kids up from school and throws his son, Chris, an impromptu 10th birthday party. Between noise complaints from the neighbors and the nosy neighbor (ok, she had her reasons but I always thought she was a buzz-kill for doing so) who calls his wife, Miranda Hillard (Sally Field) comes up anything but a happy camper.
The ensuing argument during the clean-up tells us this isn't the first time the two of them have butted heads and Miranda files for divorce. Because of his latest termination and lack of residence (yeah, they gave him, what, a couple days?), full custody of the kids was awarded to Miranda. The judge reiterates that this will be temporary and if Daniel gets things sorted out, they can make changes.

Now that I'm a bit older, I can kinda understand both sides of the situation, why Miranda has the attitude she has about her ex-husband. But the way the script is written, you really want to take his side on matters because he has a good heart and she's way too uptight about how she handles things.
I still get kinda frustrated in the earlier scenes where she arrives early at Daniel's apartment to pick up the kids from the one time a week they get to spend with him... as if this takes place BEFORE his grand "transformation" that the judge practically equates to insanity. 
This line sums it up after he tells them to not go rushing out when Miranda arrives: "You're my goddam kids too!"

This is also when Daniel learns Miranda is hiring a housekeeper. Why she didn't think of him right away, I don't know... she doesn't want to worry about them throwing more wild parties, I guess. He uses this opportunity to change the phone number on the advertisement she's about to submit to the newspaper, leaving him free to "audition" with zero competition.
After doing a string of horrible (bordering on creepy) auditions, he assays with the voice of an elderly Scottish woman and passes with flying colors.
Now he just needs the perfect disguise, which is where his brother (Harvey Fierstein, who has one of my personal favorite voices in the business... even funnier because the first time I heard him was in "Mulan") and his lover come in.

Always a great montage, only now I recognize the references to Barbara Streisand and Shirley McClain. To top it all off:

Daniel (whom we see from behind): Well, are we close?
Frank: Any closer and you'd be mom.

Naturally, the kids are hesitant to accept their new nanny, Mrs. Doubtfire, at first, the eldest in particular. And it takes a little while for Daniel to get his sea-legs too when it comes to the "light cooking" involved in the job description and making due with the extra layers of clothing, prosthetics, etc.
One scene that always cracks me up is when Daniel has to pull off both roles for Mrs. Sellner, the social worker given the duty of checking on him regularly to see that he's fulfilling the requirements needed for, potentially, shared custody further down the road. He arrives home (as Mrs. Doubtfire), changes back for a few moments and goes back to Mrs. Doubtfire after saying how she makes a good cup of tea :-P even more hilarious because Daniel loses the prosthetic mask to a street sweeper, so he's forced to improvise... turning the icing on cake that happens to be in the refrigerator into a facial mask.

Lucky for him, Frank has an extra prosthetic on hand.
"Be careful for this one. She's an old woman."

Little by little, Mrs. Doubtfire wins over the household, including Lydia when she sees how much happier Miranda is when she's there. Miranda finds a new boyfriend in Stu (Pierce Brosnan) and as Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel never misses an opportunity to make him seem less than he is out of jealousy. Not that Stu is by any means a dastardly foe, he is seen as "the enemy" by our protagonist.

It's also funny how the playlist fits the main theme of our story.
"Walk like a man" and "Dude looks like a lady" stand out in particular. Whenever I hear that Aerosmith track, I can't help but think of Mrs. Doubtfire dancing around with that vacuum cleaner. Such an iconic movie moment.

Throughout the movie, Daniel also advances from a shipping clerk position to something more creative. One of the heavies at the TV station, Mr. Lundy sees Daniel goofing around with the dinosaurs on the set of one of his shows and asks him about other ideas that could help with the sagging ratings.
Obviously he figured out that he needed to get rid of the real dinosaur: the guy hosting the show.

I assume most people have seen this movie, but now's a good point to stop giving things away. I always thought of this as a kid's movie, between Robin Williams, Mara Wilson and Chris Columbus, who has directed a lot of movies featuring kids. Yet it's PG13 and a few cuss words (more than I remembered growing up, lol) did make their way into it and I'm not counting the "goddam kids" line either.

What I've always liked about it was that we have a likeable protagonist and we have an unexpectedly pleasant resolution to everything. Interestingly, the ending was the original ending. Chris Columbus played around with other alternatives and decided he had it right the first time. It's a different way to approach the "divorced family with kids" archetype for a number of reasons and they push it enough to make a good conflict, but making it overly dramatic.
From an academic point of view, it's also a great story because the number of changes Daniel makes to remedy things, getting back into his kids' lives, it only not makes him a better person but everyone else is happier as a result.

[Program Notes]

I'll have a couple more entries going up this week.
Next will be a theatrical review of "Frozen," about which my initial take is: "I enjoyed Tangled as a new take on a classic fairytale. Frozen was 10x better." Really enjoyed it a lot.
And after that will be another entry about "Christmas Essentials," including Christmas specials and movies I can't go the season without.

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