"It's not like I go to old lady bars or anything."
This 1993 screwball family comedy starring Robin Williams is one of those films that seems to always have its finger on the trigger. The trigger is rarely pulled, however, and we are left with a film that requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief and not enough truly funny moments. Or at least that is how it seems in this viewer's humble opinion.
Could you babysit your kids for hours at a time wearing a mask and a dress and fool them?
Then again, Lois Lane never recognizes Superman and he rarely wears a dress...
One of the most troubling elements of Mrs. Doubtfire is that it is often portrayed as some kind of gender identity film about a man dressing in drag. Robin Williams enlists the help of his make-up artist brother to disguise himself as an elderly Scottish nanny. This disguise is meant to allow him to see his children without being recognized after he successfully interviews and is hired by his former wife as their nanny. Since Williams' character is supposed to be an actor specializing in voices, he becomes immersed in the role of Iphegenia Doubtfire. Doing so allows him to learn how to become a more effective parent. He has absolutely no gender issues. He isn't even interested in the handsome bus driver that hits on him.
The film, directed by Chris Columbus, was a huge hit when it was released and is frequently shown on network television. The storyline is fairly predictable. A divorced father is being limited in the time he can spend with his children due to his questionable parenting skills. He comes up with a scheme in which he can secretly see and care for his children and everyone grows as a result of the experience. The plan eventually backfires, but in the end everything works out just fine.
Sally Field is Williams' career focused and overly serious ex-wife. Harvey Fierstein is Williams' brother, who has one of the funniest moments in the film after Robin Williams tells him he wants to be turned into a woman. Pierce Brosnan is uncomfortable and feels unnatural in his role as Sally Field's rich gentleman suitor. His scenes with Mrs. Doubtfire and his restaurant order of jambalaya "without spices" add little to the fact that he seems like he has no idea what his character's personality is supposed to be. The kids are, of course, as in any Chris Columbus film, the true focal point. Mara Wilson is the "funny and cute" youngest daughter, while Matthew Lawrence and Lisa Jakub are the older children who have a lot of mixed feelings and angst about their parents' troubles. I believe Lisa Jakub recently did a film in which she portrays some sort of prostitute in the old American West... but I digress...
So, if you enjoy a goofy comedy where you don't have to think too much and would like to see Robin Williams as an elderly woman, this is the film for you. It is fairly safe for the kids, and contains some rather saccharine treatment of the issues of children of divorce while avoiding being preachy or deep. There is one scene where some people drink Scotch in very large quantities, and Robin Williams does frequently rattle off euphemisms for sex. There is also a pool scene with girls in bikinis, which sets up a rather amusing sequence in which Robin Williams' character forgets he is dressed as an old lady and tries to flirt with one of the bikini girls. This is one of the times they do pull the trigger.
Opinions expressed by this reviewer are not necessarily those of the mainstream viewing audience.