The 1994 blockbuster hit Mrs. Doubtfire is, at its core, a meditation on the difficulties of being a dad. More accurately, a meditation on the difficulties of rubber bodysuits.
The late, great Robin Williams stars Daniel Hillard, an out-of-work cartoon voice actor. Daniel is a father of three at the outset of a divorce with his workaholic wife, Miranda, portrayed by Sally Field. What, you ask, brought about this divorce? The best birthday party in the history of San Francisco, that’s what.
After the world’s lamest neighbor files a noise complaint, Miranda races home to find sparsely supervised anarchy grinding its dirty heels into her furniture. The logistics of this party, in retrospect, make little, if any sense. Daniel’s son, Chris, has just turned 12, yet every kid at this party appears to be in elementary school. Daniel also appears to be the only adult in attendance. It’s utter mayhem.
Miranda promptly files for divorce from Daniel, who then goes to stay with his brother. At their court hearing, a judge pledges to grant Daniel joint custody if he is able to secure a job and apartment. A fair ruling, given how notoriously inexpensive it is to live alone in San Francisco.
When Miranda tells Daniel she’s currently looking for a housekeeper, Daniel does what any of us would do in that situation: cloaks himself in makeup and prosthetics to assume the identity of an elderly Scottish nanny so he can see his kids. Sounds crazy, but, keep in mind, this was still some 17 years before the advent of FaceTime.
Daniel lands the housekeeping gig and keeps house to the pure oblivion of his inattentive ex-
wife and children. Miranda, meanwhile, falls head-over-heels for a pre-James Bond Pierce
Brosnan, much to the dismay of a quietly wistful Daniel.
His jealousy is understandable. Sure, Pierce Brosnan’s character has an impossibly alluring smile, chiseled, sultry facial features, a fiercely suave demeanor, and the keys to a Mercedes-Benz. But Daniel Hillard can do a Porky Pig impression. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?
Daniel’s children eventually catch onto him after one of them catches Mrs. Doubtfire peeing while standing up. They panic and threaten her with a tennis racket, because it was 1993.
My, how far we’ve come!
Anyway, Daniel’s ruse comes to a head when one night at a five-star restaurant he attempts to alternate covertly between a TV pitch meeting, dressed as himself, and Miranda’s birthday dinner, dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire. The evening, as expected, goes horribly awry, since the Hillards appear to be damned with what I can only assume is some sort of Family Birthday Curse.
Seriously, why is this family virtually incapable of enjoying a birthday? First, Chris’s birthday serves as the catalyst for a divorce, and now this? What gives? What was his daughter Natalie’s last birthday party like? Did the magician have a massive, fatal stroke in the middle of a card trick? My guess: Probably.
Daniel has such a sweet, engaging relationship with his three children. They’re everything to him. He’s everything to them. His funny voices fuel them. They’re laughter fuels him. It’s an unconditional love of the highest mutuality. The sheer absurdity of the lengths to which he goes to ensure his kids maintain a prominent role in his day-to-day life should inspire every father who watches this.
Sucks at cleaning.
It’s sweep THEN vacuum, dude.
When it’s all said and done, Daniel Hillard goes above and beyond for his kids. His devotion is
truly remarkable. You’ll hear a lot of dads say self-congratulatory things like, “I would take a
bullet for my kid.” Yeah? Would you defy court orders by secretly leading a double life as their
vaguely-European babysitter? Oh, you would? Actually preferable to taking a bullet, you say?
Okay. Sorry. Carry on.
Daniel Hillard’s Final Dad Grade: A-