He Said/She Said #18: Mrs. Doubtfire
He Said/She Said is a bi-weekly column where a male and female reviewer from the site team up to debate the merits of a particular film.
I’ve never been a huge fan of cross-dressing. I mean, I have no problem with people that are sexually confused or make it a part of their lifestyle. To each his/her own. But when it comes to cross-dressing in a movie, I feel that too often the movie never gets past the idea of a man/woman pretending to be a woman/man. Therefore, we’re left with the standard fare of jokes, usually involving the man/woman possessing an ability (strength, fashion sense, etc.) that members of the opposite sex do not and then there’s invariably an awkward nudity at some point. TOOTSIE is the most famous of the cross-dressing bunch and I’m not really a fan of that either (another article, another time), but the cross-dressing movie of the 90’s was MRS. DOUBTFIRE.
This film just grates on me from start to finish. I think many men have been in situations where they can’t spend enough time with their kids, but I don’t think many men choose to dress up like an old English nanny to do it. But even if you buy into that, the jokes hit with such a void of originality that they can’t even muster a snicker. Yeah, we get it; Mrs. Doubtfire can throw a ball and is unusually limber. I also think you have to be a big Robin Williams fan to really get into the movie. Aside from Genie in ALADDIN, I can’t say I’m his biggest fan and his “wacky” humor and physical comedy wore on me in this.
I know the film has it’s fans, but I’m definitely not one of them. The well-trodden jokes and shameless attempt at evoking tears from the audience were immediate turn-offs that the film couldn’t get past. The best thing I can say about MRS. DOUBTFIRE is that it wasn’t BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE.
I think MRS. DOUBTFIRE has some quality performances from not only Robin Williams but Sally Field, but also some quality lessons that can be taken away. Unlike other cross-dressing movies where the character is trying to advance their career (TOOTSIE) or catch a criminal (BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE), MRS. DOUBTFIRE is about a father messing up and then trying to make it right by his family. The family eventually realizes that the dad isn’t such a bad guy and he really does love his kids and wants to be in their lives, this is not always a trait found in workaholics and the character arc in this film is exceptional. Granted, dressing up as an English nanny may not have been the easiest method to accomplish the task, but the thought was there which gave this movie an endearing quality.
This was at the height of Robin Williams’ career and after this he was never really able to bounce back into the limelight. I thought this film had the right amount of heartfelt tenderness as well as enough comedy relief without going over the top. If you just look at it as a guy out on his luck who just wants to spend some time with his kids then you have a pretty decent film, but if you can’t get past the dressing up in the opposite gender that’s understandable.