How could Robin Williams in a dress fail? I’m not really sure but Christopher Columbus’ involvement is always a good start. “We have Robin Williams in a dress, who needs a script?” At one point a court ordered liaison, having seen William’s impression of a hot dog, asks him if he truly considers himself to be funny. Well, he certainly isn’t here. “Mrs. Doubtfire” is overlong, barely funny, and a surprisingly bitter movie especially for a film aimed at children.
Robin Williams is Daniel Hilliard, a barely employable voice over artist, hopelessly devoted to his three kids. Sally Field plays his wife Miranda. She finds herself working long hours as an interior decorator, while Williams indulges himself in the joys of parenthood. After Williams throws a verboten blow out birthday party for their twelve year old son that includes plenty of rap music, thousands of kids jumping on the furniture, and an entire petting zoo, she loses her cool and demands a divorce. Her request is never really an issue. It is obvious that Williams loves his kids much more than he ever loved his wife, and Miranda is sick and tired of always being made to play the bad guy discipliner who pales next to their party all the time dad.
For reasons hard to understand, Williams is turned out into the street with no money, no job, and only one day a week with his kids. Last time I checked California was a community property state, and Miranda has secured a multi-million dollar home in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights area. Shouldn’t Robin be getting some alimony and a bunch of dough? Field is so bitter she refuses to let Williams take care of the kids while she is at work and places an ad for a nanny.
Luckily for fans of the cross dressing genre, Williams brother is Harvey Fierstein, a gay makeup artist, who helps his brother create Mrs. Doubtfire, a sure fire way for Williams to get back in the house. Soon Williams is masterfully doing all the chores he seemed to neglect when he was a barely employed house husband, and we are treated to what I’m sure Columbus thought were magical musical montages of Williams vacuuming to ærosmith’s Dude (Looks Like a Lady). Eventually the older kids expose Williams (There’s nothing like the first time you catch your dad urinating in a dress.), but they keep silent and mom is none the wiser and delighted with the new nanny.
You can tell when a movie involving a secret or hidden identity has little or nothing on its mind because instead of developing the characters or the plot you are forced to watch the protagonist rapidly changing in and out of his costume at the risk of sudden and disastrous detection. This is especially apparent in a painfully awkward dinner scene, where Daniel has both an interview with a big shot television executive and a birthday party for Miranda as Mrs. Doubtfire in the same restaurant at the same time. It’s essentially that old sit-com ploy where Chachi finds himself stuck with two dates on the same night, and it isn’t any more entertaining here.
If this were a Disney movie, Mrs. Doubtfire’s friendship with Miranda would rekindle the heat and the love between the couple, and they would get back together again in a teary pull at your heartstrings finale, but Columbus seems to want to make some sort of message about the painful realities of divorce and the couple end up arguing as bitterly if not more so than before. Fans who can’t get enough of this stuff can run out and rent the subsequent Williams-Columbus teams ups Nine Months and Bicentennial Man both in their own way every bit as dreary and unfunny as this box office smash. Everyone else is encouraged to rent a Mork and Mindy sampler.