Robin Williams goes undercover as a British nanny in order to see his non-custodial children in Mrs. Doubtfire, a kind of ’90s Hairy Poppins.
Where most zany-yet-sentimental flicks of this era fumble either the comedy (Tootsie), the drama (The Birdcage) or both (Junior), Mrs. Doubtfire delights with each side of its personality. This is mostly down to Williams’ complex dual-role, conveying real emotion under heavy prosthetics while displaying the breadth of his comic arsenal. Thanks also to fine costume, hair and makeup work, he’s the Superman and Clark Kent of looking like two different people.
That his family is so unpleasant makes his devotion all the more meaningful and stands in contrast to his wife’s (Sally Field) familial resentment, and a great deal of stress could have been saved by giving him full custody as would satisfy all involved. Field is suitably prickly in the role, while the creepy children deepen the Mary Poppins connection. Mara Wilson (Matilda) in particular gives one of the strangest child performances this side of Children of the Corn. Piers Brosnan also shows up and has the audacity to say he’s from England before calling Mrs. Doubtfire’s accent “muddled.”
The pleasing Howard Shore score is augmented by a conceptual jukebox soundtrack comprising songs about cross-dressing (Dude Looks Like a Lady, Walk Like a Man etc.) though Walk on the Wild Side and Lola are conspicuous by their absence, and Shania Twain was yet to cross over (as it were). Chris Columbus balances the farce, slapstick and child-safe innuendo with Williams’ many voices and plenty of heart, as well as progressive notions of parental equality. All of which makes Mrs. Doubtfire a warm family film, and doubtlessly Williams’ finest hour.