Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Directed by Christopher Columbus
Screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon
Adapted from the novel Alias Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine
Shut up, I’m serious. It’s a superhero movie, I swear to god. I’ll explain why and everything and it’ll totally make sense. But first, a little backstory.
I worked at a hole-in-the-wall video store for about five years, in my teens. This was in a neighborhood with tons of little kids. I saw what they took out and what they didn’t. Mrs. Doubtfire went out all the fucking time. This was not during the 90’s, mind you—this was 10-15 years after the movie came out. We couldn’t keep the thing on the shelf. It outperformed all other kids movies, and was the absolute most rented DVD and VHS in the place.
Kids would rent it over and over, too. I’d see the same faces bringing it up to the counter every few weeks, which is strange, because you’d think if a kid were renting it that often, their parents would just buy it for them already, rather than constantly shelling out $3 every time they wanted to watch it. Fishy.
Also, it was always kids renting it—either a kid alone, or with some kid friends—never kids with their parents. Almost like they couldn’t rent it with their parents around, like renting this movie was a naughty and rebellious thing to do that their parents would disapprove of. Fishier.
It was then that I came up with part one of my grand Mrs. Doubtfire theory. (Which is not really a ‘theory’ per se, but rather a 100% perfectly-accurate assessment of the film which cannot be debated. Alright maybe part two, the superhero part, can be debated, but whatever, fuck you, it’s creative.)
Part one of my assessment is that the reason why parents don’t buy this movie for their kids is because parents would prefer this movie not be in their house 24/7, since this movie makes them uncomfortable.
This is a kids movie that, despite silly comedic elements peppered throughout, tackles the subject of divorce very realistically. There are no straw men here—these are three-dimensional adult protagonists with both good and bad qualities. Parents can very clearly see themselves in the characters portrayed by Robin Williams and Sally Field, and it unnerves them. It’s like watching a magic mirror of their arguments, made all the more awkward by the fact that this is a ‘family movie’ intended to be watched with their kids.
While parents are repelled from this movie for its realness, kids are propelled towards it for that very reason. Kids know their parents argue. They see and hear it happening, but it’s never explained to them. It gets brushed under the rug. Here’s a movie that privies them to exactly why parents argue, and what sorts of things they argue about. It tells it like it is—no sugarcoating, no bullshit.
It’s a cathartic film for a kid, which is why they watch it over and over. It’s something to throw on when you’re down in the dumps and having trouble making sense of the tall beings who birthed you. Or, watch with friends and siblings, as a way to bond over how fucked up ‘rents can be. (Do kids these days call them ‘rents’? That’s what we called them when I was a kid. I’m sure kids these days have their own variation on that, probably texting-inspired. ‘RNTS’ or something. Lame.)
Anyway, that’s part one of my grand Mrs. Doubtfire theory. Now, for what you’ve all been waiting for—part two, in which I argue that this is a superhero movie, and a great one, to boot. Here goes:
Alright so basically, when a kid watches this movie, they know that their own father, in those same circumstances, would never in a million years do what Robin Williams’ character does. Not a fucking chance. So that already makes him somewhat of a superhero. Someone to look at and wish existed. I mean, here’s a guy who loves his kids so much that he’s willing to fully emasculate himself in order to be able to be with them. Who wouldn’t want that guy as their dad? Creepiness-factor aside, of course.
The Mrs. Doubtfire costume is basically his ‘super suit’. In said suit he can be the best person he can be. All his shortcomings as a man disappear. He takes care of his home and his kids, just like his wife always wanted. At least, in theory. In reality, he ends up having great difficulty living up to the expectations of this new identity, and with trying to juggle two separate lives—that of a mere man, and that of a superhero.
Ultimately, he realizes that all his kids want is their father, warts and all, rather than some perfect superhero. But, he also realizes that as an artistic expression, Mrs. Doubtfire can enrich the lives of millions of kids. He puts his talents as a chameleon to good use, and becomes a Mr. Rodgers-esque television personality. An archetype that can better the world. In other words, he realizes that superheroes as a reality are a logistical nightmare, but superheroes as myth are wonderful.
I know of no superhero movie that addresses the real-world difficulties of being a superhero as well as this movie. The Incredibles touches on similar themes, but goes in a very different direction with them. Mrs. Doubtfire is a singular work. In fact, I’m curious to know if in the pantheon of superheroes, there are any that in order to be one, they must emasculate themselves. I can’t think of any, but I don’t have a particularly vast knowledge of comic books. If you know, hit me up in the comments.
4 out of 5 Codys.