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On Nov. 24, 1993, 20th Century Fox unveiled the Robin Williams comedy Mrs. Doubtfire in theaters, where it would go on to gross $441 million globally. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Mrs. Doubtfire should clean up at the holiday box office, presenting 20th Century Fox with a super-sized hit. With Robin Williams and all his protean prowess packed into the dowdy form of an elderly female housekeeper so that he might, as a divorced father, see his three kids, this comedy’s warm and soothing nature will give mainstream audiences in these dysfunctional-family times a perfect holiday uplift.
Like many marrieds, wife/mother/provider Miranda (Sally Field) was attracted to her mate for the very qualities that now she can’t abide. A pert, organized woman, Miranda was drawn to her husband Daniel for his “spontaneity and energy.” Unfortunately, spontaneity and energy is what makes living with Daniel a veritable E Ride — it’s terrific fun but somebody has to clean up. And it’s always Miranda.
Not surprisingly, the kids, especially the littlest, Natalie (Mara Wilson), adore him, particularly when he brings ponies into the house.
The courts, however, rule on the severe side of reason: Daniel is virtually cut out of his children’s lives during a custody battle. Although the judge promises a review of the case, Daniel’s saddled with a prunish overseer (Anne Haney) who’s not likely to report favorably. Daniel’s decimated — “I’m addicted to my kids!” — and decimation prompts inspiration.
He dowdies up into the form of the perfect housekeeper, a fastidiously proper British widow, Mrs. Doubtfire. Not surprisingly, with Daniel pushing all his wife’s buttons from underneath, the stately woman wins the position. So, every day after his shipping-clerk toils, Daniel gussies up and serves as his three sires’ very proper after-school guardian.
But it takes more than a corset and a skirt to suppress his inner nature: It’s not long before the person-within-the-person begins to burst through at the seams. When Mrs. Doubtfire is home alone, she tends to get a little rambunctious, strutting out Cruise-like with her vacuum and, when she’s with the kids, the old lady shows she can kick a mean soccer ball.
Screenwriters Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon’s adaptation of Anne Fine’s novel Alias Madame Doubtfire is a thoughtful and inspired blend of broad comedy and pointed drama. Director Chris Columbus smoothly ladles out the slapstick with deft broadening strokes that never diminish this story of one family’s painful separation.
With a waddle to his wit, Williams is a drag-out hit as the redoubtable Mrs. Doubtfire. While the dual parts provide him with a showcase of his hyperkinetic talents, Williams marvelously shows the pain beneath the clownish surface. Field is well-cast as the strained wife/mother, as is Pierce Brosnan as her proper beau. As little Natalie, young Wilson is irresistible. In a supporting role, Haney is a hilarious foil as Daniel’s reproving, humorless overseer.
Among the finely polished production contributions, special praise to key makeup artist Ve Neill for Williams’ redoubtable transformation. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Nov. 22, 1993
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