Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Behind-The-Scenes Footage, Trailers

First of all, a word about Robin Williams. Ever since Williams left "Mork & Mindy" for the big screen, I’ve had strong opinions about his performances in movies. His joke-per-second off-the-cuff schtick works for me in "Aladdin" and "The Fisher King", but often, I just find him irritating. I usually prefer to watch Williams tackle a dramatic role, like he does expertly in "Awakenings" or "Good Will Hunting".

That said, "Mrs. Doubtfire" showcases the laugh-a-second Williams, with a fair number of scenes featuring the dramatic Williams. He plays Daniel Hillard, a cartoon voiceover artist who can’t seem to hold down a job or keep his marriage together. He loses both his job and his family on the same day. He is awarded custody of his three children one day a week, which both he and the kids find unacceptable. He discovers that his ex-wife Miranda, played by Sally Field, is trying to hire a housekeeper to take care of the kids while she’s away at work.

Daniel’s brother, played by the great Harvey Fierstein, is a makeup artist, and is able to transform Daniel before our eyes into an older woman, Mrs. Doubtfire. Daniel applies and is accepted for the job as housekeeper at what used to be his own house. The makeup is effective on both Daniel’s family and the audience. We actually believe that Miranda would not recognize her own ex-husband under the latex and foam padding. Of course, Daniel is presented as a master at changing his voice. Here, Williams shines as a comedic actor by actually becoming an older woman. He’s a believable woman in the role, not a caricature. And this is important, because it adds to the realism as we’re expected to believe that Daniel is actually getting away with this. After a somewhat slow start, the movie really kicks in once Williams becomes Mrs. Doubtfire. Director Chris Columbus finds ways to put Williams into comedic situations without making them feel like cliches.

One subplot involves Pierce Brosnan, only months away from signing on to be James Bond as Field’s new love interest. It really is an interesting dynamic to have Williams, under the makeup, witnessing his ex-wife being courted by a new man. Another subplot involves Daniel himself being courted by an executive to start his own children’s show. These two subplots intertwine in a furious scene in which Daniel is forced to attend a dinner with the TV executive as himself and with his family as Mrs. Doubtfire. This tired old idea used in such places as bad TV sitcoms actually works well in this movie, mostly due to Robin Williams and his manic energy.

Some of the best scenes in the movie occur when Daniel, as Doubtfire, talks with Miranda. He’s talking to his ex-wife about their marriage, and she feels as if she’s able to confide in him, because she doesn’t know it’s him. It’s a very interesting situation for the two people to be in, because she’s able to tell Daniel things she ordinarily wouldn’t be able to, and she doesn’t even realize it. Daniel is able to use his position as trusted friend to advise his ex-wife on dating. Mrs. Doubtfire doesn’t find the handsome, rugged, Pierce Brosnan-type attractive. "Personally, I prefer short, furry and funny."

After listening to the director’s commentary on the disc, one can see why the comedy feels so natural. It seems that Columbus would shoot each scene several times, allowing Williams more space to improvise with each scene. This loose atmosphere on the set is evident in several scenes throughout the film. The actors are having fun, and so are we while watching the movie. This is important, because the plot is preposterous, and we as the audience need to connect with something on the screen to distract from the silliness.

Williams won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy, and the movie won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Motion Picture. I can’t stress strongly enough how well this movie works despite its shortcomings. The cast is amazing. Sally Field manages to shine through her very weak part as the grouchy mom, and the kids are great, too. The children in this movie are believable as children going through a divorce. The movie’s biggest shortcoming seems to be when it tries to get serious. The dramatic scenes with Williams don’t really work at all for me. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when the movie tried to make some serious dramatic point, such as when Daniel quit his job over a cartoon character smoking. This scene felt false to me, perhaps because it’s the very first scene in the movie and we haven’t been introduced to the characters yet.

"Mrs. Doubtfire" is presented in the film’s original theatrical 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio but sadly the disc does not contain a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> transfer that could have added immensely to the picture quality. The overall image is quite good although signs of over-enhancement are evident through most of the film. Blacks are deep and solid and maintain a good level of detail while highlights are bright and well-balanced, creating an image that has a very natural look to it. There are several audio tracks available on this DVD. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.0 soundtrack is good, with the musical score being the primary use of the surround speakers, so don’t expect too much effects action going on there. There is also an English 2.0 track and a French 2.0 track. The subtitles are selectable English closed-captioned or Spanish.

The supplements are what really make this disc special. The deleted scenes are of good video quality, and some are very funny. They were obviously cut for the purpose of length, not content. The director’s commentary is also very good. Director Columbus talks almost constantly, and he sounds well prepared. If he isn’t reading from a script, then he’s definitely using detailed notes. This commentary ranks up there as one of my favorites.
Columbus gives a feel for what it’s like to work with Robin Williams. His improvisations can sometimes be a blessing, and sometimes cause their own logistical problems. The actors in the on-camera cast interview section confirm this. Other extras include behind-the-scenes footage of makeup tests and application, trailers, storyboards, and an interview with Chuck Jones. This disc has as many extras as a Criterion release! Apparently, these extras were created for the Laserdisc release, but interestingly not all of the extras were transferred to the DVD for some reason.

Let’s hope "Mrs. Doubtfire" is a sign of things to come in terms of richness and quality of supplements of Fox’s future DVD releases. 20th Century Fox has put a lot into this DVD release of the movie, but the video quality is somewhat sub par. If you enjoy Robin Williams cutting loose in improvisational mode in a comedy, you will have a great time with the movie on this DVD.