Friday, August 15, 2014
Based on the novel Alias Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine, Mrs. Doubtfire is the story of an out-of-work actor who poses as an elderly British nanny so he can see his kids following the divorce from his wife. Directed by Chris Columbus and screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon, the film is a light-hearted comedy where a man tries to be with his children as well as deal with the dissolution of his own marriage as the titular character and the role of Daniel Hiller is played by Robin Williams. Also starring Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson, Harvey Fierstein, and Robert Prosky. Mrs. Doubtfire is a charming and entertaining film from Chris Columbus.
The film is a simple story of an out-of-work voice actor who gets divorced from his wife as he couldn’t see his three children as he decides to take on the role of a British nanny by the name of Mrs. Doubtfire when his wife needed a nanny to watch over the children. It’s a film that explores not just the concept of divorce where the children are caught in the middle but also a man who is put into a corner where he is only allowed to see his children for a small amount of time and has to get a steady job and a new home. By becoming Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel Hiller not only becomes a better person but also realizes the mistakes he made in the way his marriage ended. At the same time, he finds himself having to contend with the presence of his ex-wife’s new boyfriend Stuart Dunmire (Pierce Brosnan).
The film’s screenplay creates not just a story that is compelling with bits of realism but also has a sense of charm and characters that audiences can relate to. While Daniel maybe sort of a man-child who never disciplines his children nor orders them around as he likes to have fun with them. It would be in the form of a birthday party for his son Chris (Matthew Lawrence) that would be the catalyst for the breakdown of his marriage to Miranda (Sally Field) who constantly works as she realizes how chaotic Daniel makes things prompting her to file for divorce. Upon the things he had to do in order to see his kids, Daniel would work at a TV station and live in an apartment that isn’t suitable for anyone at the time being as he can only see his kids for a few hours on a Saturday. At the same time, he would have to receive visits from a court supervisor (Anne Haney) to see if he can create a suitable home for his children. With the help of his makeup artist brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein), Daniel would take on the role of Mrs. Doubtfire.
One aspect of the script that makes it very interesting is how complex the characters are where Mrs. Doubtfire is this very unconventional British nanny as she maybe this big woman but also full of warmth and understanding as she would win over the kids including the eldest Lydie (Lisa Jakub). In this role, Daniel would find ways to better himself as he would eventually surprise Miranda during one visit late in the film. At the same time, Daniel would get a big job opportunity when he meets the TV station boss in Jonathan Lundy (Robert Prosky). The character of Miranda might seem like a woman who is just this workaholic who decided to end her marriage and create problems for her children. Yet, she is really just someone who wants to be happy as she has this great conversation with Doubtfire about what happened with her and Daniel where she does become more sympathetic. The character of Stuart could’ve been a villain but he is someone who manages to be a really nice guy that adores Miranda and the children as he would be an antagonist for Daniel.
Chris Columbus’ direction is very simple in terms of the compositions he creates as he would shoot the film largely in San Francisco. Much of it would include some close-ups and unique medium shots while Columbus would also create moments that play into a sense of energy of who Hiller is as an actor. Some of it would involve some crazy montages as well as lively moments that definitely crossed the line between innocent humor with a bit of bawdiness. One aspect of the film that Columbus succeeds is balancing humor with some drama as it relates to the concept of divorce. Though there are elements of sentimentality, Columbus manages to not overdo it and know to hit the right notes. Especially towards the end as it plays into what children have to deal whenever parents divorce. Overall, Columbus crafts a very entertaining and heartwarming film about a man trying to spend time with his children by pretending to be a British nanny.
Cinematographer Donald McAlpine does nice work with the film’s cinematography as it is very simple in the way many of the locations in San Francisco is presented along with the lighting in some of the film’s interior scenes. Editor Raja Gosnell does terrific work with the editing as it is straightforward with some inventive montages of Daniel’s voice impressions. Production designer Angelo P. Graham, with set decorator Garrett Lewis and art director W. Stewart Graham, does wonderful work with the look of the home Miranda and the kids lived as well as the apartment were Daniel would live in. Costume designer Marit Allen does excellent work with the costume design from the many different clothes that Mrs. Doubtfire would wear.
The makeup work of Greg Cannom, Ve Neill, and Yolanda Toussieng are phenomenal in the way they would create the look of Mrs. Doubtfire in every bit of detail. Sound editor Gloria S. Borders and sound designer Gary Rydstrom do superb work with the sound from the way some of the parts of the film‘s locations sound as well as some moments in the climatic restaurant scene. The film’s music by Howard Shore is amazing for its very light-hearted and low-key score with its orchestral arrangements that would also include some somber pieces while its soundtrack would feature music from James Brown, the Four Seasons, Frank Sinatra, House of Pain, B.B. King and Albert Collins, and Aerosmith.
The casting by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins is excellent as it features some notable small performances from Martin Mull as Miranda’s co-worker Justin, William Newman as a tired and dull TV show host, Scott Carpuro as Frank’s partner Jack, and Anne Haney as a court supervisor who would make a visit for Daniel’s apartment as she would meet Mrs. Doubtfire in a humorous scene. Robert Prosky is superb as a TV station boss whom Daniel meets as he catches Daniel’s act and realize that his station could be saved. Harvey Fierstein is fantastic as Daniel’s brother Frank who would create the mask and look of Mrs. Doubtfire. In the role of the children, Lisa Jakub is brilliant as the eldest child Lydie who deals with not seeing her father as she would warm up to Mrs. Doubtfire. Matthew Lawrence is amazing as Chris as a teenage boy who enjoys playing soccer with Mrs. Doubtfire while Mara Wilson is a total delight as the youngest Nattie who loves to be around Mrs. Doubtfire because she reads stories to her.
Pierce Brosnan is great as Stuart Dunmire as an old friend of Miranda’s who comes back into her life as he proves to be a nice guy that cares about the children though he serves as an antagonistic figure for Daniel. Sally Fields is incredible as Miranda as this frustrated working mom who is trying to find happiness in her life after years of a marriage that didn’t work as it’s Fields being quite calm and also very tender. Finally, there’s Robin Williams in one of his most iconic performances as the titular character and Daniel Hiller. It’s a performance that has Williams be at his funniest where he provides a lot of manic energy and improvisational ideas towards his humor as well as showing a sense of sensitivity and warmth once he plays the role of Mrs. Doubtfire as it’s really a performance for the ages.
Mrs. Doubtfire is a glorious film from Chris Columbus that features a tour-de-force performance from Robin Williams. It’s a film that isn’t just a family film that brings in a lot of laughs and heartwarming moments but also a film that manages to be so much more. Especially as it plays into the idea of family and what people go through with divorce as a man pretends to be a woman just so he can be with his children. In the end, Mrs. Doubtfire is an extraordinarily rich film from Chris Columbus.
© thevoid99 2014
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This movie was so special to me as a kid, and it's always great for a re-watch. Awesome review!
Thank you. I had to re-watch it. I felt a need of duty to thank the man for what he's given us. I saw The Fisher King last night and I think I'll watch more of films.
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