Director: Chris Columbus
Release Date: 24 November 1993
Running Time: 125 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Editor’s Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Just when I thought I got all of the melancholy from losing Robin Williams out of my system, YouTube takes the biggest pleasure in reminding me there’s always a reason to mourn the legend we lost. Anyway, today’s film is a classic 90’s comedy that is made purely as a vehicle for Robin Williams to dress up in a costume and make us laugh. And that, I believe, is just what the internet needs right now. However, the movie is not without its flaws, many of which I don't think you'll remember, but I'll dig up for the sake of laughing at them.
We open with Daniel Hillard (Williams), a voice actor who seems to get decent work, but he's afflicted by what is known in show business as a case of “The Morals.” After refusing to lend his voice to a Tweety lookalike in a kid’s cartoon that enjoys smoking, he quits his job after his director makes the absolutely valid claim that underage smoking is prevalent in all children’s cartoons. Remember that time when Porky Pig lit up a soothing Lucky Strike after killing Daffy Duck out of pure frustration? Totally worth it. Have you seen those road trip cartoons they've been in? Jesus, I'd have done it after the Robin Hood spoof. At least then it could have been a mercy killing.
Anyway, Daniel’s quickly-cleared schedule allows him to pick up his kids from school, whom he tells about the bad news rather straightforwardly, to his credit. Daniel then throws a party for his son, which flies in the face of his wife, Miranda (Sally Field), requests because of his bad grades. This of course leads to a giant fight once Miranda gets home, and they get a divorce. CUE THE UNEXPLAINED SHIFT INTO POVERTY OF DANIEL HILLARD!
Miranda is a successful architect, so in the proceedings she’s granted custody of the kids, with Daniel only getting custody on weekends. Instead of contacting his agent for some unknown reason, Daniel goes to a court-appointed liaison to inefficiently explain his career because people in 1993 didn’t view voice acting as a real profession. Never mind that the opening scene’s recording studio looked more like an antechamber of Montgomery Burns’ mansion than any recording booths I’ve ever seen. But hey, the writers needed to find a lazy way for us to feel bad for Robin Williams, so we move forward. Daniel finds a job in a shipping and receiving department of a local TV station, and lands a decent one-bedroom apartment in a nice-looking neighborhood somehow.
Now with Miranda’s job taking much of her time, she needs to hire a maid to take care of the house while she’s out being a strong independent woman. She reluctantly tells this to Daniel, who sees his chance to get back into his children's lives. He launches a coordinated effort to alienate Miranda from making a decent decision, using his voice talent to create a bunch of crappy candidates, giving Miranda something to leap out at when he calls with his "good voice," the Scottish Mary Poppins, Mrs. Doubtfire. “She” gets the job, and thankfully, the movie’s laugh vehicle is set up.
Hijinx of course ensue, and most eerily, Mrs. Doubtfire and Miranda become friends, which Daniel uses to try and sabotage her budding relationship with a co-worker and discover what exactly he did wrong, only to realize that they’ve grown apart. We get most of the stuff seen in the trailer, and in those few montages Mrs. Doubtfire ends up becoming integral to the family, like she was the missing piece. Score one for subtlety.
Back at Daniel’s job, through a moment of sheer serendipity he puts a kid’s show host who makes Ben Stein seem like an epileptic Richard Simmons out of business through an improvised business pitch in front of the owner of the station about how—shocker!—kid’s shows need to be entertaining to keep their attention long enough to teach them something. The boss wants to hear more, so he invites him to dinner to talk. Miranda then tells Mrs Doubtfire that she wants to celebrate her birthday at the same restaurant. This of course leads to the big climax, which leads to the big reveal, and leads to Daniel accounting for his actions.
Oh, he doesn’t? Because he says “he’s sorry” really well and makes Miranda feel bad? Okay then.
Now, don’t get me wrong here – this movie is hilarious. It’s a perfect vehicle to show off Robin Williams for everything that we love about him: physical comedy, voice acting, improvisation, and just not being able to take your eyes off him even when he’s covered in hundreds of pounds of makeup. This film excels at being funny, but it doesn’t give us an accurate interpretation of divorce.
However, these problems might just be a problem of their time – films in the 90s liked to be edgy, but not too edgy. In this film, it acknowledges divorce, but jumps away to Robin Williams being Robin Williams before anything gets too real. This movie had a chance to talk about divorce in a real way, but doesn't want to give Williams and Field the time to do so, resulting in it feeling rushed and cheesy.
Those misgivings aside, it’s still a prime example of Robin Williams being funny as hell, and should be watched just for that alone.
**This movie is part of my own collection and I wrote this review without being paid moneys for it**