Behind the Seams Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Harvey Firestein, Robert Prosky
Director:  Chris Columbus
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  125 Minutes
Release Date: 
March 4, 2008

"My first day as a woman, and I'm already getting hot flashes..."

Film ***

Robin Williams may now be a respected Academy Award winning actor, but there will likely always be an audience who will flock to see him do what he does best:  comedy.  In Mrs. Doubtfire, he delivers some of his funniest work, that unfortunately happens to be lightly peppered with some serious moments that donít quite work.

Williams plays Daniel Hillard, a down on his luck voice-over artist whoís facing the prospect of divorce from his long suffering wife, Miranda (Field).  Not willing to have his time with his kids limited, he takes a rather drastic and funny course of action:  with the help of his make-up artist brother (Firestein), he dons the disguise of an old British nanny, and moves in as housekeeper right under his wifeís nose.

This opens up a lot of comic territory to explore, and Williams and director Columbus seem to hit most of it.  I mean, Robin Williams in drag is funny enough, but making him an old lady is hysterical.  Everything you would expect from a gender bending comedy is here.  The moments of near discovery.  Learning his wife is seeing a handsome rich stud (Brosnan) and being able to do something about it.  And, of course, the climax that forces Mrs. Doubtfire and Daniel Hillard to be at the same place at the same time.  Although most of these scenarios are expected, Williamsí wonderful comic energy makes it all work in the most delightful ways imaginable.

The problem for me is, from time to time the film tries to comment on the seriousness of divorce, particularly how it affects children.  A worthwhile topic, to be sure, but it doesnít mix well with the filmís comic energy.  Frankly, if I had wanted to see Kramer vs. Kramer, I would have rented that.  The whole divorce aspect of the story actually kicks off with an argument over their childís birthday party.  Nice.  Weíre supposed to mentally fill in that this was just actually the last straw in a long series of disagreements, but neither Williams nor Field really offer enough to communicate that kind of history.

And there are the comic licenses that are just a bit too much to be believed.  Iím sorry, but I just donít buy that a TV executive would deliberately hire a man dressed as a woman to be the host of a daily childrenís show, nor do I believe that a show doing as badly as the one heís replacing would have been on the air for so many years.

But these are minor points.  The film is a comedy, first and foremost, and when it concentrates on the laughs, it delivers big time.  So ignore the moral lessons and enjoy Robin Williams doing what he still does best:  comedy.  And as an added bonus, enjoy the Williamsí voiced cartoon short that plays during the movieís opening, made by none other than the legendary Chuck Jones.

Video **1/2

This is a good effort from Fox, but not great.  On the plus side, the disc offers clean, crisp images with no grain or color bleeding, but as a negative, the entire film appears maybe a fraction of a shade lighter than it should have been.  Often, colors look a little more drab than natural, including rather off-tones for whites.  The film is only fifteen years old, but it appears to be suffering from some premature aging signs.  Anamorphic enhancement might have helped some.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is quite good, though, particularly with the energetic musical score that accompanies the film that creates a full, ambient listening experience despite much discreet channel usage.  

Features ***

The disc contains 30 minutes of deleted scenes, two production featurettes, a photo gallery, a conversation with legendary animator Chuck Jones as well as a look at pencil tests and the final animation he created, a look at the make-up, the improvisation of the film, and the original 1993 featurette with trailers and publicity stills.


Mrs. Doubtfire succeeds enough at being funny to make up for the shortcomings of being serious.  This is one of Robin Williamís finest performances.

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