Wednesday, February 3, 2010

MRS. DOUBTFIRE: Blu-Ray (20th Century-Fox 1993) Fox Home Video

Chris Columbus’ Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) is a rather obvious gender-bending mishmash of every angst ridden cliché from the old androgynous closet. More often than not the screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon goes for the twenty-second laugh rather than the more reserved chuckle, coming across as quaintly ridiculous rather than monumentally hilarious.

The film stars Robin Williams as voice over artist, Daniel Hillard; a father whose marriage has crumbled into ongoing confrontations with his advertising executive wife, Miranda (Sally Fields). After Miranda files for divorce and takes up with an old flame, Stuart Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnon), Daniel doesn’t get to see his children, Lydia (Lisa Jakub), Christopher (Matthew Lawrence) and Natalie (Mara Wilson). In fact, thanks to Miranda's testimony, the court has concerns about Daniel being an unfit father.

Moving in with his gay brother, Frank (Harvey Fierstein) and his lover, Jonathan Lundy (Robert Prosky), Daniel soon realizes that Miranda will never let him look after their children - at least, not as himself. Enter Euphenegia Doubtfire (Williams, with a skirt), the pert, curt and feisty British matron who is determined to do right by his kids, even if he has to pitch a little latex and lip rouge on the side.

Miranda hires ‘Effie’ to prepare meals, keep house and act as a surrogate mother while she pursues her career and Stuart. At first, his kids resent this new interloper. Eventually, they come to regard her as an integral part of their lives – a genuine affection made all the more problematic by the fact that Daniel cannot tell them who he really is.

After Christopher and Lydia figure out the rouse they all agree to keep it a secret from Miranda and Lydia, the latter having become quite attached to Mrs. Doubtfire as the doting grandmother she's never known. Unfortunately, when Stuart takes the family out to a posh restaurant for dinner, Mrs. Doubtfire decides to pepper his Cajun cuisine with curry; resulting in a food allergy that lodges a shrimp in Stuart's throat.

Performing the Heimlich to save Stuart's life, Daniel's make-up applications are exposed to Miranda. Utterly shocked and humiliated, she hauls Daniel back into court. This time the judge bans Daniel from seeing his children outright. But Miranda's heart has softened. She realizes that any man who would sacrifice his ego to such a charade really must love his children. The film ends with Miranda agreeing to allow Daniel to watch Christopher, Lydia and Natalie for the after school hours while she is at work.

Mrs. Doubtfire is hardly perfect entertainment. When the script allows for Robin William's improvisation, the results are predictably hilarious. However, Columbus’ direction is swift and assured. But the Singer/Dixon screenplay tends to go nowhere fast. Instead of critique we get cliché; instead of recognition for the tribulations of being a woman we are subjected to tack on snickers and the suggestion that a man in drag is a better 'mother figure' than an any woman. William’s take on a proper English nanny veers grossly into the realms of extreme parody.

Unlike Dustin Hoffman’s characterization of a woman in Tootsie (1981), completely assimilated beneath the wig and makeup applications, as the audience we are never entirely convinced that Williams is not underneath his fat suit and curlers. William's essence is everywhere to remind us how painful the experience of wearing a girdle can be. Unfortunately for the film, most men have already figured that one out for themselves without the benefit of trying one on for size.

Fox Home Video’s Blu-Ray is a direct import of their ‘Behind the Seams’ standard DVD. This is an adequate, though not exceptional transfer. There’s nothing really off about the color spectrum. It just isn’t as vibrant as most Blu-Ray titles. Contrast is superbly rendered as are fine details. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and appears to be the identical mix as on the previously issued DVD from Fox.

It should be pointed out that the extras available on this Blu-Ray are direct imports from the DVD release. Apart from deleted and extended scenes, the rest of the extras include on-camera interviews with stars and crew, a meeting with animator Chuck Jones, behind-the-scenes make up and pencil test footage, trailers, vintage promotional junkets and a ‘making of’ that is largely self congratulatory.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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