I remember watching the movie Mrs. Doubtfire as a kid and thinking, “Wow, the dad is so fun and cool, and the mom is so uptight and grouchy.” But perspective is a funny thing — it’s amazing how much it can change with time, and that couldn’t be more evident than in the case of Sally Field’s portrayal of the mom in this beloved family movie.
It’s been 30 years since Mrs. Doubtfire came out, so I recently decided to watch it again. And as a mom now, I actually empathize with Field’s character, Miranda, more than ever. There are several reasons I would’ve also been frustrated (to put it lightly) with Robin Williams’ character, Daniel, as a partner.
Daniel lies and is deceitful to Miranda (and others).
His biggest lie is the entire plot of the movie: Daniel fools a lot of people by disguising himself as a 60-year-old British woman named Mrs. Doubtfire. After he and Miranda decide to get a divorce, the court rules the mom has primary custody of their three kids.
When Daniel finds out Miranda is looking to hire a housekeeper, he applies as “Mrs. Doubtfire” and gets the job. He dresses up as her and creates an entire backstory for her. While the reason for his lie is understandable (getting to see his kids every day), the extent to which he goes to pretend to be someone else would make it difficult ever to trust him again.
Miranda is dealing with a man who acts like a kid himself.
When you’re already raising three kids and working full-time, the last thing you need is a partner who also acts like a kid. Daniel proves that he is immature and irresponsible. One of the strongest examples is when Miranda tells their son Chris he can’t have a birthday party because of his grades, and Daniel does just the opposite of that — and to the extreme.
He throws a house party for his son and brings a petting zoo INTO their house. When Miranda rushes home after hearing about the party from a neighbor, the police are out front and the house is a disaster. (Kids are literally swinging from the chandelier, and Daniel is dancing on the table with Chris.) This is just one of many situations when his childish behavior makes everything harder for Miranda.
Miranda feels like Daniel is not capable of having serious conversations.
While a sense of humor in a partner is great, not being able to talk through relationship issues brings its own problems. Miranda admits she was initially attracted to how funny Daniel was but that he never wanted to talk about anything serious. Because of this, she wasn’t able to fully open up with him about her unhappiness in their relationship.
Even when she brings up wanting a divorce, Daniel makes a joke: “We’ll move, and hopefully our problems won’t follow us.” The exchange sums up a huge disconnect in their relationship.
Daniel asks their kids to keep secrets from Miranda.
In more than one instance, Daniel puts the kids in an awkward position by encouraging them to keep the truth from their mom. For example, when Miranda says Chris can’t have a birthday party, Daniel plans the party for him anyway and tells the kids they’ll do it while the mom is at work so that she doesn’t know. When Miranda finds out about the party, it’s the last straw that leads to their divorce discussion later that night. After overhearing their parents’ talk, Chris blames himself for the divorce because of the party (even though it was Daniel’s idea).
Another example: When Chris and Daniel’s daughter Lydia inadvertently find out Mrs. Doubtfire is their dad in disguise, Daniel makes them promise not to tell Miranda. In both situations, Daniel is making his kids oppose the mom.
Daniel tries to sabotage Miranda’s new romance.
I completely understand how hard it must be for Daniel when he sees how quickly his ex-wife is starting to date someone else. But that said, he tries to sabotage Miranda’s relationship with Stu in a savage way while he’s disguised as Mrs. Doubtfire. He repeatedly throws digs at Stu, like saying he must have an expensive car to compensate for “smaller genitals.” And as if that isn’t enough, he adds pepper to Stu’s meal when he says he’s allergic to it, leading to Stu almost choking to death.
While Mrs. Doubtfire’s interactions with Stu are no doubt entertaining from a viewer’s perspective, I would be livid if I knew my ex was acting this way to my new boyfriend.
The verdict: I still love the movie… but Miranda deserves more credit.
Beyond all of these issues with Daniel, watching the movie again as a parent made me realize Miranda is a mom who deeply cares about her kids’ happiness.
After Miranda discovers that Daniel has been disguising himself as Mrs. Doubtfire, it would be understandable for her to want limited contact between him and the kids. But despite the court ruling that he can only have supervised visits with the kids once a week, she arranges for Daniel to get to spend time with them every day. She does this because she knows how important it is for the kids to still see their dad.
As a kid, I used to think of Miranda’s character as the villain who breaks up her son’s birthday party and then breaks up their family. But now I realize: She’s a mom who was unhappily married and is just trying to do the best she can for her kids.
And as for her ex-husband (as this meme so eloquently states): “He brought a damn pony into the house” — enough said!