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.


A Look Back: Good Will Hunting

If you are a troubled character in a Hollywood movie, who is seeking therapy, you have a few choices. You can go with the quirky, laid-back therapist, or you can find one who believes that seduction is a helpful method when thrashing out the issues in an adult patient. You may even find one who will analyze your sibling as well as you at the same time, like Barbra Streisand does with Nick Nolte and Melinda Dillon in “The Prince of Tides,” in what is apparently a two-for-one deal. But sleeping with your patient is not always necessary in forming a rapport and ultimately making a breakthrough, as a movie like “Good Will Hunting” proves.

In the movie, Matt Damon plays an angry young math genius who comes from a blue-collar background and is currently working at MIT as a janitor, when he’s not hanging out raising hell with his buddies, including his best friend (Ben Affleck). At the start, Matt attracts the attention of a professor (Stellan Skarsgard) when he casually solves an equation that Stellan has put on the board, in the hopes that by the end of the term, one of his students will have found the correct answer. Stellan tries to talk to Matt who gives him the brush-off, but then after Matt and friends get in minor trouble with the law, Stellan has better luck when he convinces his colleague (Robin Williams) to provide court-ordered therapy to Matt. Why the others get off scot free, I have never figured out, but anyway, Robin is a therapist in the mold of Judd Hirsch in “Ordinary People,” i.e. baggy cardigans, somewhat unkempt but capable of razor-sharp insight, able to think outside the box., etc. Let the meeting of two quirky minds begin.

Since Matt is already so advanced, him going to college is not really considered, but he keeps sabotaging job interviews that would give him more prospects than menial labor. He’s also just met a Harvard student, Minnie Driver, who he likes but again is conflicted about making a commitment. Of course, Robin’s job is to help Matt work through his ambivalence about the future, both personal and professional, in order to make him a little less a pissed off genius and a little more of an adult.

This movie doesn’t have a sequel, but in “Jay and Silent Bob Go to Hollywood,” both Matt and Ben make fun of the movie and Miramax, when they’re shown rehearsing on the “set” of “Good Will Hunting 2: It’s Hunting Season.” We don’t learn what happens after Matt takes off in pursuit of Minnie, but at least the movie skips the cliché of the one left behind showing up at the airport in the nick of time to prevent their loved one’s flight. But the odds are good, that they do manage to get back together.