Movie: Mrs. Doubtfire

I saw Mrs. Doubtfire in the theater when it was released in 1993.  At that time, I watched the story through the eyes of a child with divorced parents.  I thought it was a nice story, and a funny one.  But there was a lot that I didn’t understand.  Yet.

For those who don’t know, Mrs. Doubtfire is a movie featuring Robin Williams as a divorced dad who is unhappy with his custody situation.  In a desperate attempt to spend more time with his children, he dresses as a woman and lands a job as his ex wife’s housekeeper. During this time, he also has a front-row seat to watch the new Stepdad Figure move in to fill his shoes.

I watched the movie again over the weekend.  And this time, I saw it from a different perspective.

This time, I was crushed when the family court denied custody to Daniel Hillard because he didn’t have a job or an apartment.  The apartment aside, I’ve heard of many women being awarded custody on the basis that they do not have a job and therefore will be more present to care for the children.

This time, I was enraged when Miranda Hillard arrived an hour early to pick up the kids from their once-a-week visit with their father.  As the three children stood up from the dinner table to rush out and meet their mother, I heard the pain in Mr. Hillard’s voice when he instructed them to sit down and shouted “you’re my goddamn kids too!”  …And then I noticed Mrs. Hillard’s sense of entitlement and superiority when she burst into the apartment without knocking and demanded that “her” children leave with her immediately.

This time, I recognized the rejection felt by the man disguised as Mrs. Doubtfire as he sat at a bar and pounded beers while watching his family frolic at a country club pool with his ex’s new suitor.

In seeing the movie again, I was able to understand and sympathize with both parents in addition to the kids.  I identified multiple facets of the divorce process which I was too ignorant to observe nearly twenty years ago.  And I was able to make note of the messages sent through the screen:

  • “Different” does not equal “unfit”
  • “Desperate times call for desperate measures”
  • It not appropriate to disparage another parent in front of the kids.  And it’s not a laughing matter.
  • Respectful interaction between parents makes things easier for everyone.
  • Life goes on.
The next time you’re searching for an appropriate Family Movie Night Flick, might I suggest Mrs. Doubtfire?

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  1. Isn’t it interesting how our perspective changes when our situation is different. And your impression of the movie would have been quite different 20 years later even if you were not a step-mom. I think it’s because we’re wiser and able to see all the angles better. I remember reading “Desire Under the Elms” when I was about 19. I read it again for an American Lit. class when I was in my 30s and I could hardly believe it was the same play. Life is funny-peculiar that way.

    I enjoy your writing. Hope you’re doing well.

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