A Look Back: Mrs. Doubtfire

The power of love, as Huey Lewis astutely observed in an eighties pop hit, is a curious thing. It makes one person weep; another sing – and occasionally, in Hollywood movies, dress up as an individual of the opposite gender. This, in turn, produces some interesting dilemmas that perhaps the viewer has never before entertained, such as:

1. What if my very own – admittedly drunk – father hit on me when I’m dressed as a girl – without irony? – “Sorority Boys.”

2. What if I pretend to be a boy in order to be taken seriously as a high school journalism student, but wind up falling for my best guy friend? – “One of the Guys.”

3. What if I pretend to be a boy so I can transfer to a new school as a soccer player, but get “outed” when my roomie discovers tampons in my luggage? “She’s The Man.”

Yes, if you decide to don drag for an extended period of time in a movie, you may find yourself in one of these situations or even worse. Luckily, the supporting characters in these movies tend to have either a very low IQ or very poor vision, so it is possible to fool even your nearest and dearest if necessary. At least until the end. As a rule, though, it’s best to avoid putting yourself in another common Hollywood movie situation – in which you must pretend to be two different people at the same time – if you need to toggle between genders. However, a movie does exist in which the lead (Robin Williams) is brave enough or foolhardy enough to do this, which is “Mrs. Doubtfire,” directed by Chris Columbus. The result is successfully amusing, although because it is Robin, you may not be all that surprised when he pulls it off.

In “Mrs. Doubtfire,” Robin plays a recently unemployed actor and recently divorced dad who gets busted when he throws his young son (Matthew Lawrence) a forbidden birthday bash behind his uptight wife’s (Sally Field’s) back. Though the fun is G-rated, things still get out of control to the point where Sally is especially reluctant to let him see Matthew and his two other children (Lisa Jakub and Mara Wilson). The die is also loaded because Robin has no permanent place to live at the moment, so while the judge’s custody decision might seem sensible in real life, it means here that it’s time for Robin to exercise his acting powers to the fullest. With help from his brother, a makeup artist, and another friend, he transforms himself into the titular Mrs. Doubtfire, an elderly Scottish woman who applies for and receives a job as Sally’s new nanny. While the domestic side of things takes some getting used to, Robin is otherwise a hit, endearing himself to both the kids and Sally. Surprisingly enough, we get to witness his glee in a montage powered by Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” Eventually, the two older kids work it out but agree not to tell.

Trouble comes, however, in the form of Sally’s new beau: Pierce Brosnan who is, as required by these kinds of movies, to be a colossal jerk. So soon Robin is faced with the challenge of getting rid of the interloper, as well as find a job in a TV studio that will let him use his talents as a comedian and an impersonator. If you’ve never seen a movie before, you’ll be stunned to learn that he is doubly successful in this quest, although a note of reality is injected when Robin and Sally remain divorced. After this, Robin went on to make a trio of darker movies, in which he played both a lonely photo center employee and a cynical clown, but this is fun family fare – though you may start questioning the plausibility of certain things later on.

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