This raucous high-concept comedy offered the perfect vehicle for Robin Williams to show off his slapstick chops.
Since its launch in 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire has become a legend. A kind of weird film that still manages to charm us all even almost 30 years later.
Despite it’s legendary status, when you think a bit harder about the concept it is a little… weird.
It’s about a man getting divorced who, desperate to see his kids, dresses up as an old woman and pretends to be a housekeeper. A very 1990s concept film, wacky like Weekend at Bernies II and all that.
Daniel Hilliard (Robin Williams) is a voice actor in San Francisco with three kids (Lydia, Chris, and Natalie) and a wife called Miranda.
One day he quits his job after disagreements over the script and returns home to throw Chris (Matthew Lawrence) a manic birthday party.
Miranda (Sally Field) returns home to this and is angry with Daniel’s unreliable and manic behaviour. She files for divorce.
And during court proceedings, the judge rules that Daniel won’t get access to his kids until he gets a steady job and his own flat.
Whilst he tries to get his life together to show the law he’s responsible, he also invents a maniacal plan to cross-dress as an old woman and become Miranda’s housekeeper.
Before Miranda puts an advert out, Daniel changes the number so no one can contact her.
He then proceeds to use his voice acting skills to make fun application calls as a mixture of maniacs and oddballs.
Eventually he bags the job as Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, for which he uses a posh British accent.
He heads off to see his brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein, the gravel voiced dude also in Independence Day), a makeup artist. And Daniel gets himself all done up!
This allows him to lead a double life, hanging out with his kids while trying to prove to the court he’s getting his life together.
Daniel plays Mrs. Doubtfire is a kindly older woman with strong opinions on right and wrong behaviour, which “she” uses to raise the Hilliard kids.
Meanwhile, the film uses Williams’ manic energy to convey the absurd humour of the situation whenever Daniel breaks out of his character.
Later in the film Miranda’s new boyfriend, Stu (Pierce Brosnan), turns up and makes Daniel envious of his suave personality.
But, inevitably, the kids and Miranda find out about Mrs. Doubtfire and that makes a bit of a mess of Daniel’s court proceedings.
Although the film does end on a relatively happy note, with Miranda and Daniel agreeing to an amicable joint custody agreement.
So, yes, the high-concept plot is a little weird. Very 1990s.
And without doubt, it’s Robin Williams who makes the film. Without him the whole project would have fallen flat on its backside. Unless they’d got Jim Carrey in, perhaps.
But we think it’s a testament to Williams’ charm as a performer that he could take a plot like this, with its bizarre legal ramifications, and turn it into a much-loved family favourite.
And we remember watching it in the city back in 1993/1994 and enjoying it a great deal. Why is that good? Because it’s the point of films.
Mrs. Doubtfire’s Production and Legacy
Off its $25 million budget, the film went on to be a smash hit. It earned back at least $441.3 million.
Shooting take place in San Francisco, with the Hilliard house becoming a tourist destination after Mrs. Doubtfire became a hit.
For the extensive makeup Williams required, it’d take four hours a day to get his new face on.
The child actors didn’t go onto film careers. Lisa Jakub (who praised Williams for his generosity and support during production) is now 42 and works as a mental health advocate and author.
She’s also said she’s regularly quizzed about, “What happened to the daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire?” To which she responds thusly.
Well, ummm, I mean, a lot of stuff has happened since 1993 so you’re gonna need to be more specific. pic.twitter.com/pV2TxLrcdJ
— Lisa Jakub (@Lisa_Jakub) April 30, 2021
A sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire was in the works for over a decade, but screenplay issues held the project up.
Writers struggled to make the concept work for a second time.
They’d had something of a breakthrough by early 2014 and Williams and Chris Columbus looked set to make the sequel, but unfortunately Williams’ death ended the project.