Film / Mrs. Doubtfire

A 1993 comedy directed by Chris Columbus and starring Robin Williams, about a man who crossdresses as an elderly British woman in order to see his kids again. It co-stars Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan, Matthew Lawrence, and Mara Wilson.

Daniel Hillard (Williams) is a newly unemployed actor in a rocky marriage. One day, after going behind his wife's back and throwing a wild birthday party for their son, his wife, Miranda (Field), is finally tired of his antics and asks for a divorce. Only allowed to see their three children once a week, Daniel tries to get a new job and shape up his life so that he may receive joint custody. He discovers that Miranda is looking for a nanny to take care of the kids after school. She won't allow him to babysit them, so with the aid of his make-up artist brother, Daniel disguises himself as Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, an elderly, matronly Scottish woman. He is quickly hired by his ex-wife and uses the opportunity to secretly spend time with his children. Things get more complicated, though, as Miranda starts dating an old friend, Stu (Brosnan), and Daniel finds that his family can't bear to part with Mrs. Doubtfire.

A rare Twelfth Night Adventure in western media. Based on the book Madame Doubtfirenote  by Anne Fine, this was one of Robin Williams' biggest hits and finished its theatrical run 2nd behind Home Alone (another Chris Columbus film) as the highest-grossing live-action comedy of all time. The film won the Academy Award for Best Makeup and the Golden Globe for Best Comedy.

A sequel was announced, but in the wake of Robin Williams' death in August 2014, this now seems unlikely. A musical adaptation is also in the works.

Shows examples of:

  • All Work vs. All Play: Miranda and Daniel. This is what prompts their divorce.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: When Daniel tells Mr. Lundy about bumping into his old girlfriend at the bathroom:
    Lundy: Hey, does your girlfriend have a girlfriend?
    Daniel: Hey, it's the '90s.
    Lundy: No, I mean, does she have a lady friend for me?
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: The bus driver seems to think so, regarding Mrs. Doubtfire.
  • Avoid The Dreaded G Rating: Or in this case, the PG rating. Supposedly, the scene in Bridges Restaurant where Mrs. Doubtfire says numerous double entendres to Stu was pretty much the main reason the film got a PG-13 rating; otherwise, it might've squeaked by with a PG. The scene where the kids find out Ms. Doubtfire's identity also calls for a PG-13 rating.
    • Notably, the UK version has several of the most saucy double entendres removed from this scene in order to make a BBFC PG rating, as the next step up is 12, which is rather restrictive for what is seen as a family comedy.
  • Becoming the Mask: While Daniel never loses himself in the Mrs. Doubtfire character, she certainly does grow beyond his original plan and takes on a life of her own, and by the end of the film he enjoys being her simply for being her, because she brings out the good in people including Daniel himself.
    • This also applies to his parenting and housekeeping. At first Daniel has to pretend to be the ideal babysitter and housekeeper as Mrs. Doubtfire in order to stay employed by Miranda, by doing things like make the kids do homework and chores before they can goof off (something he would let them do as Daniel), and keep the house clean and make delicious meals to make their mom happy. Eventually these skills become so second-nature that even after the kids learn who he is, he keeps encouraging them to balance fun with responsibilities, and he cooks and keeps house at his own place as well as Miranda's.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Daniel and Miranda remain divorced, but are on better terms with each other and Daniel is allowed to see the kids anytime he wants. This was substituted for the original ending where they do get back together, which was opposed by Chris Columbus, Robin Williams, and Sally Field (all divorcees) who thought it would give false hope to children of divorced couples.
  • Bowdlerise: The Hub's showing of the film takes scissors to everything from snippets of dialog to entire scenes. Dubbing over Frank saying "Bitch"? Perfectly understandable. Cutting the scene when Mrs. Doubtfire asserts her authority and makes the kids do chores because they won't do their homework? Hurts the film and makes the kids feel like props rather than characters. Oh, and Miranda can't say "Hell" but "Lotsa luck, Smart Ass" was fine.
    • Some of the edits likely have more to do with the fact that The Hub is attempting to fit a two and a half hour movie into a two hour timeslot. AMC's edit of the film bizarrely mutes Robin Williams saying "damn", but 5-year-old Mara Wilson can say "damn" in the same exact context.
  • Brick Joke: Frank is teased as one of Mrs. Doubtfire's future guests.
  • Camp Gay: Daniel's brother (played by Harvey Fierstein, no less) and his partner.
  • Chekhov's Skill: At "her" interview, Mrs. Doubtfire's resume states that she knows first aid, including the Heimlich Maneuver. This apparently isn't a lie (like the rest of the qualifications clearly are), as Daniel ends up needing to administer the Maneuver to Stuart later on.
    • Fridge Brilliance: Daniel lied about all of Mrs. Doubtfire's qualifications, including the first aid, only to pick them up for real as he got more into the character. Meaning at some point, he must have taken a first aid class solely to round out his skill set...and it just happened to come in handy.
  • Clark Kenting: Averted. The multi-faceted disguise combined with Daniel/Robin's utterly brilliant performance has been known to make even audience members occasionally forget Mrs. Doubtfire's fictionality.
    • The crew had Williams test it out by going into a store in full Doubtfire gear and manner to see if anyone could spot that it was a disguise. Everyone took him as a sweet, if quite tall, old lady.
  • Compensating for Something: Mrs. Doubtfire uses this trope regarding Stu's car to mock him, outright stating that menyoun big cars to compensate for their small genitals.
  • Contrived Coincidence: It's very convenient for Daniel that his brother happens to be a makeup artist.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Daniel over Stuart and Miranda. Starts off as Petty Jealousy Guy but definitely becomes crazy when he spikes his food with pepper (which Stuart is allergic to).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Daniel, even when he's Mrs. Doubtfire.
  • Demoted to Extra: In-universe example. Early in the movie, Mr. Sprinkles is the painfully boring star of a failing children's show. At the end of the movie, he's replaced by Mrs. Doubtfire and is demoted to her mailman.
    • Played with a bit, since it was implied the Mr. Sprinkles actor was going to get the axe entirely, and so it's rather heartwarming to see that, even with his show gone, they still found a place for him to continue acting.
  • Deus ex Machina: It's a good thing Daniel had an entire vanilla cake in his fridge so he could plant his face on it and pass it off as facial cream! If not, the movie would've been over in half an hour.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Defied (see below).
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Invoked in the scene when Mrs. Doubtfire first meets Miranda and the kids. Miranda begins to diss Daniel, and Mrs. Doubtfire tells Miranda that it's appropriate to send the kids out of the room before verbally bashing their father. Miranda tries to make a joke: "If I did that, I might never see them again." She immediately apologizes after Mrs. Doubtfire's stern look and lack of laughter from the kids.
  • Edible Bludgeon: Daniel under the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire does not take kindly to Stuart calling him a loser, and pelts him in the back of the head with a lime.
  • False Soulmates: Daniel and Miranda divorce and never get back together.
  • Establishing Character Moment: An extremely awkward one. In the opening scene, Daniel quits his job in protest of a cartoon having a cute little bird smoking a cigarette. So we're supposed to sympathize with him because he stands up for his principles. Except it was 1993, not 1953. No children's cartoon in the world would've glamorized smoking at that time, much less any station air it. Were it not for this scene, we would've been introduced to Daniel losing (another) job, ignoring his wife's wish not to throw a party for a grounded child, and destroying the house with a wild party. It would've been hard not to side with Miranda with the irresponsible husband and father angle. But because he's opposed to kids smoking, he must be a good guy. (Subverted later on when Daniel has Mrs. Doubtfire insist on seating his children in the smoking section of the restaurant to avoid getting a table near Mr. Lundy.)
  • Fat Suit: Really, the only way Daniel (Robin Williams) could appear as "Mrs Doubtfire" around his kids was to utilize this with sort of (heavy) makeup. [See Clark Kenting, above.] Given that, anything that changed his appearance on a large enough scale would have worked; the fact that "Mrs Doubtfire" appeared to be an elderly, overweight, nanny was rather incidental to the behavior....
  • First Father Wins: Double Subverted, Daniel gets divorced, but he still is the preferred father in the eyes of the kids.
  • A Fool for a Client: Daniel, at his second custody hearing. It all comes tumbling down.
  • Genre Blindness: Really? Attempt to attend the same event as two people? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
    • To be fair, he tried to get out of the birthday dinner and move the business meeting, but both failed. Besides, the Two-Timer Date did go well, until it was botched thanks to Laser-Guided Karma.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: It stars Robin Williams, what did you expect?
    Mrs. Doubtfire: Don't fuss with me.
    Mrs. Doubtfire: Ok, whatever you think, dear, I'll get the frock out of here!
    • A lot of snarky lines cross into this as well.
    • How the kids found out that Mrs. Doubtfire is Daniel.
    • Lastly, something which likely went over the head over most of the children at the final trial scene is that the judge is implying that Daniel is a Depraved Homosexual, unable to be trusted with his kids.
    • Not to mention the Bilingual Bonus you get when you know what he says in Yiddish while disguised as an old woman...
    Old Woman: I should never buy gribenesnote  from a Mohelnote  . It's so chewy!
  • Gilligan Cut: Early in the film, Daniel's brother is trying to console him about his impending divorce, but Daniel assures him that it's just a temporary thing and will soon blow over. Cut to Daniel and his wife standing in court hearing a judge discuss custody arrangements.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Daniel does such a good job as Mrs. Doubtfire, that when he himself has shown to be a competent parent (thanks to the skills he's learned as Doubtfire), Miranda won't consider letting him watch the kids outside his visitation rights because she and the kids can't bear to let go of Mrs. Doubtfire.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: If Daniel hadn't decided to spike Stu's dinner, he wouldn't have had to stop him from choking thus most likely keeping his identity as Mrs. Doubtfire safe.... at least for the time being.
  • Holding Both Sides of the Conversation: The caseworker for the divorce makes a surprise visit to Daniel's apartment to check up on him, but comes while he's still in disguise. Daniel!Doubtfire covers for it by claiming that she's his sister. The caseworker calls his bluff, but Daniel gets around this by going into a room to "get" him; while in the room, where the caseworker can't see him, he loudly holds both sides of the conversation as himself and Mrs. Doubtfire, all while changing out of disguise.
  • Hollywood California: Set in San Fransisco.
  • Hurricane of Puns: When Daniel is changing out of the Mrs. Doubtfire disguise during the social worker's visit.
    Daniel: "Oh yeah, it's something I can really sink my teeth into!" *removes false teeth*
    "It's like I don't have the same face anymore!" *removes mask*
  • Idiot Ball: Miranda divorced Daniel, whom she supposedly was well aware of his skill with voices and fast talking. Yet all these strange, surreal nannies responding to her ads never sets off an internal flag that her ex-husband could be behind them.
  • I Meant to Do That: Done successfully by Daniel at the end of the movie. When he realizes that he accidentally sat down at his boss' table while dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire, he tells his boss that "Mrs. Doubtfire" is his idea for a new children's show character. It works so well that he ends up getting his own TV show.
  • I Never Said It Was Divorce:
    Miranda Hillard: They are very upset with me right now.
    Mrs. Doubtfire: Probably the divorce.
    Miranda Hillard: How did you know?
    • Mrs. Doubtfire backed this up by saying she can tell by the way Lydia talked about her dad.
  • Jerkass: Daniel's boss Tony in the shipping department.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The back of the original book cover features a summary of the story's plot, but actually makes no mention about Daniel and Mrs. Doubtfire being the same person (only stating that Miranda has hired a peculiar nanny to watch over them). This suggests that Doubtfire really being Daniel was meant to be a surprise to the reader. However, most people are likely more familiar with the film adaptation, so very likely, anyone who reads the book will already know going in what's happening.
  • Latex Perfection: A rare realistic version, thanks to Daniel's makeup artist brother Frank. Behind the scenes, the film very deservingly won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.
    • Although in real life there's no way Williams could have donned that makeup so quickly (and repeatedly). He actually spent 4½ hours a day having it applied.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: At the end of the film, Daniel comes to take the children for the afternoon, but regards Miranda somberly, and is too stricken to wait inskidsthe house for the kids. The closing monologue is Mrs. Doubtfire's response to a letter from a young girl who's concerned about her parents' recent divorce and the future of their family. It's heard over scenes of the Daniel and kids leaving Miranda behind and driving into the distance.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: The name Doubtfire came from a newspaper headline ("Police Doubt Fire Was Accidental").
  • Literal Metaphor
    Miranda: How did your husband die?
    Mrs. Doubtfire: He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him.
    Miranda: How awful, he was an alcoholic?
    Mrs. Doubtfire: No, he was hit by a Guinness truck, so it was quite literally the drink that killed him.
  • Little Black Dress
  • Maybe Ever After: Daniel and Miranda don't get back together in the end of the movie, but Daniel's time as Mrs. Doubtfire serves to ground him, reining in some of the excessive tendencies that drove them apart in the first place. Indeed, Mrs. Doubtfire's closing monologue (which Miranda watches) states that sometimes divorced parents do get back together...and sometimes they don't. The question of whether their marriage is salvageable is left ambiguous, and far less important than the fact that they've reached a happy medium with their children.
  • Mugging the Monster: A would-be mugger tries to steal Mrs Doubtfire's purse. Mrs Doubtfire fights him off, yelling at the man in Daniel's normal voice (which scares the crap out of the snatcher and some bystanders), then goes over to Mrs. Doubtfire's voice "Broke my bag, the bastard!"
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When Mrs. Doubtfire realizes that Stu is choking from the shrimp with the cayenne pepper, she quips, "Oh no, I killed the bastard!"
  • Never Mess with Granny: "Don't...fuss with me."
  • Never Trust a Trailer: This film is good, and it has funny moments. It is not, however, a light wacky romp.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Miranda tells Mrs. Doubtfire that the court worker told her about an old woman going to Daniel's home, followed by a scary stare and saying "Mrs. Doubtfire..." in a seemingly accusatory tone. You can practically see the horror in Daniel's face. Luckily, it was about Mrs. Doubtfire's personal life.
    • When a half-drunk Daniel accidentally sits at Lundy's table in his Doubtfire garb:
    Lundy: ...Daniel??
    Daniel: Yeah?
    Lundy: Why in God's name are you dressed like a woman?!
    Daniel: (quietly) ...Oh damn.
  • One Last Smoke: At the beginning of the movie, Daniel is making voices for a cartoon where a cat who's about to eat a bird decides to give his "snack" a cigarette. The bird accepts the offer.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe and lampshaded. Daniel's accent for Mrs. Doubtfire is a second-hand, sort of bastardized Scottish accent and occasionally slips into others from the region. Stu, who's actually from the UK where accents are a big part of culture, points this out when he first meets "her". Daniel just barely covers by responding that she moved around a lot in her life.
    • In one of the more serious moments in the movie, Miranda confides in Mrs. Doubtfire that she's happier when she's not around Daniel. Daniel briefly and subtly drops his Doubtfire accent to say, "Well you never..." before catching himself and continuing the conversation in the Doubtfire accent. Luckily for him, Miranda didn't catch on.
  • Opposites Attract: Defied and Deconstructed with Daniel and Miranda. As Miranda tells "Mrs. Doubtfire," she fell for Daniel because he was so funny and carefree, unlike all the stuffy people she worked with in the corporate office, but then "after a few years it stopped being funny." Then, of course, the film gives us plenty of examples of how hard it is to build a life and raise a family with someone with such such polar opposite values in the long run.
    Miranda: We're too different, Daniel. We don't have anything in common!
    Daniel: Sure we do! We love each other!
    Miranda: ...
    Daniel: We love each other... don't we?
  • Parenthetical Swearing: "Don't fuss with me."
  • Precision S-Strike: When Daniel's mask falls out of the window, lands in the road, and then gets run over by a garbage truck.
    • This.
    Natalie: We're his goddamn kids, too!
    Miranda: Any other choice phrases you'd like to teach our five-year-old, Daniel?
    • There's a rather clever aversion that still gets the point across perfectly; when "Mrs. Doubtfire" is watching the children for the first time, and gives them the task of helping with the housework, the kids rebel, only to have Daniel, in character, give a small grin: "Don't fuss with me."
  • Reaction Shot: After Miranda says she wants a divorce, we cut to all three of the kids' faces in turn. Lydia and Natalie look downcast, and Chris is on the verge of tears.
    • A happier instance occurs when the kids are told that the legal system is no longer involved in their lives. Chris and Lydia look on approvingly while Natalie hugs their father.
  • Reality Ensues: When Daniel is finally caught and forced to come before the judge, the judge tells him that if you want to prove yourself a competent, capable parent figure, dressing up like an elderly Scottish nanny and posing as a housekeeper to defy court orders isn't going to help. Daniel did meet the judge's demands, ahead of schedule as he points out, but his behavior as Mrs. Doubtfire did far more damage to his case than any of the good he did for it, which justifies his loss of visitation rights but gives Daniel the message that he'd be better off a divorced father than a nanny.
    • The same applies to Miranda and Daniel's marriage. Initially the two fell in love because Opposites Attract, but the film show in the long run their polar opposite work ethics, values, and life goals brought out the worst in each other and caused the two to fight non-stop until they finally split up.
    • The original plan was to have Daniel and Miranda get back together at the end of the movie, but Williams, Field, and Columbus (all divorcees themselves) changed it to having them not because they felt as if it was too unrealistic. Some marriages really don't work out, but that doesn't mean that the parents don't love the kids anymore.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • The judge is sympathetic to Daniel during the initial proceedings, saying that he's an obviously loving father and it would be unfair to grant Miranda sole custody simply because she's the mother. He gives him 90 days to find a stable job and create a suitable living space, after which he offers to consider joint custody. Once Daniel is exposed, he does still seem to be sympathetic, but notes that his behavior has done far more damage to his case than good.
    • Jonathan Lundy, the head of the studio, accepts Daniel's criticism of his work, and is willing to give him his own show when he sees how creative he is. When Daniel accidentally exposes himself as Mrs. Doubtfire, Lundy is impressed enough to give him his own show starring her, rather than disturbed.
  • Right in Front of Me: Daniel complains at work about an extremely boring children's program that's the executive who allowed the program to air. When he finds out exactly who he's talking to, Daniel introduces himself as a "former employee." Luckily for him, his boss agrees with the criticism.
  • Romantic False Lead: Averted. Miranda's new boyfriend Stu is portrayed as a perfectly decent guy who seems to be a stable and mature father for the kids. His sole bad moment is when he badmouths Daniel by the poolside, but that's easily justified for a number of reasons (he hurt Miranda, for one) and he never speaks ill of Daniel in earshot of the children.
  • Rule of Funny, Harpo Does Something Funny: Daniel eventually gets the job as nanny using the voice of an elderly British woman after terrifying his ex-wife with a series of comically inept "applications". Yet, when he goes to be disguised as a woman, he then tries out several different looks (which call for quite different voices, including a Cuban woman and a Russian woman) first. This makes no sense and only happens due to Rule of Funny. Several reviewers criticized the movie for stopping dead in its tracks several times to let Williams riff in a movie that crosses the two-hour mark.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Daniel does this when his fake breasts catch fire during the cooking scene.
  • Scylla and Charybdis: Hand-in-hand with the Two-Timer Date.
  • Secret Keepers: Lydia and Chris become this to their father after Chris accidentally walks in on Mrs. Doubtfire in the bathroom.
  • Shout-Out: The Show Within a Show Daniel ends up working on as "Mrs. Doubtfire" is pretty much Mister Rogers' Neighborhood with a female host.
    • Daniel even states that Mr. Rogers is Mick Jagger compared to the host of the boring children's program.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: After Chris and Lydia find out that Daniel is Mrs. Doubtfire, He's quick to tell them that he didn't have gender reassignment surgery.
  • Stalking Is Love: Unusually, it's a man stalking his whole family rather than just his ex-wife.
  • Stealth Insult: Stu is on the receiving end of a great many of these from Daniel while in disguise.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Lou and Lydia both respond with "actors" when Daniel quits his voice acting job over conscientious objections.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: When Daniel is not allowed to deviate from the script that calls for him to promote smoking in a cartoon:
    Director: If you leave, you're not comin' back in. I'm not takin' any crap from you, pal.
    Daniel: Well, in the words of Porky Pig: P-p-p-p-p-p-piss off, Lou. (walks out)
  • Take Five: At Bridges Restaurant. With Miranda having gone to escort Nattie to the bathroom, Mrs. Doubtfire directs Chris and Lydia to leave the table and preview the desert trays so she can be alone with Stu and take the piss out of him.
  • Taking the Kids: And the house.
  • Talking to Himself: When recording lines for a cartoon, Daniel is doing the voices for both present characters. invoked
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: Invoked Trope. In order for him to get Miranda's housekeeping job, Daniel changes the telephone number on the classified ad before it's sent to the newspaper, then calls Miranda's number as terrible interviewees before breaking out what would be Mrs. Doubtfire.
  • Throw It In: In-universe: The movie's opening scene has Daniel recording lines for a cartoon, and improvising dialogue that wasn't in the script. He does this out of protest against the animation's innocuous portrayal of smoking, considering it inappropriate for children. This leads to him getting fired yet again. invoked
  • Toilet Seat Divorce: The immediate cause of their divorce is that Daniel threw a birthday party for their son despite Miranda's veto (which, in turn, was a response to the son's poor grades). Later in the film, Daniel (as Mrs. Doubtfire) asks if the sole reason she divorced him is because he doesn't appreciate the way she organizes the condiments in the kitchen. It wasn't. Miranda reveals to Mrs. Doubtfire that she'd spent the last few years overworked to compensate for Daniel's chronic unemployment and frustrated with his reckless parenting style.
    • Earlier in the film, Lydia told Mrs. Doubtfire that she made her mom so happy than she's ever seen before. In fact, Lydia states that she can't even remember the last time her mom was ever happy.
  • Token Trio: High schooler Lydia, middle schooler Chris, and grade schooler Natalie.
  • Troll: Daniel calling Miranda in the Terrible Interviewees Montage.
  • Two-Timer Date: Daniel both has to appear with his family as the nanny while also having a dinner with his boss. He ends up exposing himself to his family in the process.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: At the start of the movie, Daniel saying "Sure we do [have something in common], we love each other" during an argument with Miranda causes her to suddenly realize she doesn't love him anymore, and she wants a divorce, kicking off the plot of the film.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Stu vanishes from the film following the disastrous dinner with zero explanation—is he still dating Miranda but just unseen, did he dump her because he can't deal with all the craziness, etc?
    • He probably disappears from the story because at first, Daniel and Miranda were going to get back together, until it was changed to them remaining divorced at the end of the film (at the insistence of Robin Williams, Sally Field, and director Chris Columbus).
    • The elderly bus driver who was crushing on Mrs. Doubtfire also disappears, never finding out the truth about her identity.
  • What Have I Become?: The driving reason behind Miranda's desire to get a divorce. She confesses to Mrs. Doubtfire that she hated who she had become over the course of her constant strife with Daniel, such as always having to play the bad cop to his good cop to the kids.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Daniel.
  • Wild Teen Party: Subverted. Somehow inviting all the toddlers in the neighborhood, renting a petting zoo, and a pony for your son doesn't sound very great for a 12-year-old boy. Especially to risk your marriage over.
  • You Remind Me of X: Mrs. Doubtfire's humor reminds Miranda of her ex-husband's, and for good reason.