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Movie Review

Mrs. Doubtfire

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teen to Adult
Comedy, Drama
2 hr. 5 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Relevant Issues
Box art for “Mrs. Doubtfire”
Featuring: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence, Mara Wilson, Harvey Fierstein, Polly Holliday
Director: Chris Columbus
Producer: Marsha Garces Williams, Ralph Williams, Robin Williams
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

If I were a movie producer and wanted to push middle-America further toward acceptance of cross-dressing (building on the effect of the female characters of bygone comics like Red Skelton, Flip Wilson and Jonathan Winters, and of movies like Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie”), I’d look for a human-interest script with a “justifiable” reason for engaging in the practice, and would want a top-flight dramatic actor who also had the comic ability to play anyone from Popeye to Peter Pan. Does what I’ve just said have anything to do with this film? Maybe, maybe not. We can’t prove the intent, but the effect is pretty clear.

As the film opens, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is employed as the voice of all the characters in a Tweety-and-Sylvester type cartoon series, but quits his job for reasons of conscience (he believes one of the cartoons glorifies smoking). Then he throws a far-out birthday party for his son. he’s always been the spontaneous, funny one in the family; but this time his no-nonsense wife Miranda (Sally Field), who has her own professional career, is fed up with his antics and perpetual unemployment, and asks for a divorce. Daniel gets only one afternoon a week with his three kids. Desperate to see them more often, he concocts a plan to masquerade as a 60-year-old woman, Mrs. Iphegenia Doubtfire, and answer his wife’s ad for a housekeeper-nanny. Conveniently, Daniel has a gay brother Frank (gravelly-voiced actor/playwright/gay activist Harvey Fierstein, “Independence Day,” “Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde”); and Uncle Frank and his lover “Aunt Jack” happen to be movie-grade special-effects makeup artists. When Daniel asks “Can you make me a woman?” they’re only too happy to oblige. Once in disguise, Daniel’s vocal and acting talent do the rest. (The film’s actual makeup artists took home an Oscar.)

Content: There’s profane language (including Daniel’s five-year-old daughter repeating g*d* after him) and sexual humor throughout. The cross-dressing, and Daniel’s woman-to-woman discussions with his wife about her handsome new boyfriend (Pierce Brosnan), provide plenty of adult comic material.

This is possibly Williams' finest performance in a technical sense; I don’t know of anyone else who could have done this wide-ranging role so convincingly. The heartbreak of divorce, the issue of visitation rights, a father’s love for his children—these are all worthwhile topics. But the gender-bending overtones take center stage to everything else. When he’s recognized by his two older children and asked if he really likes dressing that way, Daniel at first answers “yes” before deciding that he’d better say “no.” And after there’s no more need to play the role for visitation reasons, Daniel as Mrs. Doubtfire becomes the host of a children’s TV show. Although we get only a small glimpse of how the Hillard household was before the divorce, the implication is that Daniel is a better parent as a woman than he was as a man.

This film is well done and extremely funny in spots, which makes it more dangerous for viewers who are unsure about the issues it raises. God’s Word places great importance on men and women having separate life-roles. Scholars differ on whether the cross-dressing called an “abomination” in Deut. 22:5 is the ordinary kind or some pagan ritual; but Scripture as a whole warns us to avoid anything that blurs gender differences. Although Daniel is doing the right thing by trying to stay in his children’s lives so they have two parents, we must remember that God’s intent was for children to have a MOTHER and a FATHER. He made us distinctly male and female, and ordained heterosexual marriage, way back in Genesis 2:18-24; and the rules have never changed (see Mark 10:6-9). A pair of generic, interchangeable “parents,” whether they’re the same sex or opposite sexes, do not fit the blueprint. I understand that single parents must partially fulfill both the Father and Mother roles, and that some couples have to share and overlap duties out of economic necessity. I’m not talking about that, but about the teaching that there should be no such thing as “men’s work” and “women’s work” or any other distinction in roles. Parents following that doctrine are liable to create sexual confusion in their children. Please read Matt. 18:1-6 and note the warning in the last verse.

Viewer Comments
Positive—I would like to first of all say that I am a non-Christian (though I was raised Methodist). I stumbled on your site accidentally, and have visited several times out of curiosity of how a dedicated Christian interprets various movies, since I don’t know any personally. That said, I cannot understand the objections to Mrs. Doubtfire. The primary objection seemed to be Robin Williams dressing as a woman in order to visit his children. In this case, he is not crossdressing for sexual reasons, or because he is confused about his sexual identity. He crossdresses because he loves his children and this is the only way he can see them. The notion that a Biblical injunction against the wearing of certain kinds of clothing is more important than showing love for one’s children is, I would think, anathema to Christians. Perhaps there are other ways he could have gotten around it (why not a male nanny in disguise?) however his goal is to show his children that he loves them. I fail to see how loving one’s children could ever be a sin. Another objection was to the homosexual brother and his lover. The subject of whether or not the homosexuality was acceptable never came up. It has always been my understanding that the vast majority of Christian sects preach “hate the sin, love the sinner”. Robin Williams’ character never claims to endorse homosexuality; instead, he is shown as loving his brother. The movie is mute on the subject of the moral qualities of homosexuality, just as it is mute on the subject of cross-dressing. The story takes a stand on only one issue—the importance and power of love. I fail to see how this is immoral in any way.
My Ratings: [Good / 4½]
—Ryan T, age 20, non-Christian
I saw this when I was 12 and needless to say, the jokes and stuff about sexuality went over my head (thank goodness). It was a really funny movie, without a doubt (no pun intended), but I did not approve of the use of profanity in this movie.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Shannon, age 20
There’s a strong message about fathers’ rights in here. Unfortunately, it’s given the TV cute sitcom treatment. Plus, Robin Williams’ character is shown as being no more than a big kid himself, and Sally Field’s character is portrayed as a mean mom. The only moments I remember that may be truly offensive to some audience members involved short scenes with openly gay actor Harvey Fierstein, playing a character who helped Williams transform into Mrs. Doubtfire. A somewhat amusing movie, but no big laughs.
My Ratings: [Average / 2½]
—Hillari Hunter, age 39