News

How Mrs. Doubtfire Made Divorce Feel Survivable

On its 25th anniversary, Alicia Lutes reflects on how the Robin Williams comedy helped her -- and many children like her -- find hope in a difficult time.

by | November 23, 2018 | Comments

20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection)

I saw Mrs. Doubtfire at the exact right moment. It wasn’t on the day it came out, but maybe a year and a half later. My parents were about to embark on what would end up being a nasty divorce, and my father was no longer living at home. It was well before the “50% of marriages end in divorce” world we’re all deeply familiar with now, and my parents’ separation made me feel like an outlier in our slightly Stepford-ish Connecticut town. I didn’t know anyone else whose parents were divorced. Would we survive it? It felt like the end of the world.

My two younger siblings and I watched Mrs. Doubtfire for the first time on VHS, a rare universally approved pick from the local Blockbuster. Instantly, we were transfixed by Robin WIlliams’ effortless charisma. This was the dad that every kid wanted, and in my 9-year-old eyes, my father was a hilarious hero much like Daniel Hillard, an energizer bunny of a mostly stay-at-home dad, especially compared to my far grumpier workaholic mother. You’d expect a story like this to totally villainize the mother, but what happened was something far different. The film quickly became a tender ode to modern families when love simply isn’t enough, and what happens when families break apart for the better.

20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection)

Mrs. Doubtfire showed that life could not only be okay after divorce, but that in some cases it was the best case scenario for everyone involved. It was clear that the Hillards were dysfunctional and in pain. Dan and Miranda (Sally Field) were in precarious positions and relying on slightly toxic habits to stay mentally afloat. And stuck in the middle of it were Lydia (Lisa Jakub), Chris (Matthew Lawrence), and Natalie (Mara Wilson), who were as lost and confused by this brave new world as my two younger siblings and I were, and who in many ways mirrored myself and my younger brother and sister. All of us, real or fictional, were desperately in need of our father’s love and support, and rendered emotional and reactionary by all the new, seemingly unnecessary changes, complicated by a not entirely effective court system. But the film also provided us something else: a glimpse into the secret lives of parents.

Look at the lengths to which Dan Hillard was going: He was willing to risk everything to see and be with his kids! I needed to believe that there was a reason why my father wasn’t around, why this was all “for the best” in spite of it feeling like the worst. Mrs. Doubtfire’s outlandish scenario gave me hope — after all, being Mrs. Doubtfire made Dan a better father (and even at a young age, I knew my father could stand to be a bit more, well, fatherly).

20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection)

Watching it again as an adult proves the film to be even sweeter in that regard. Now a woman of 32 with much more context not only for my parents’ divorce, but the lives of moms and dads, I notice a real sense of compassion for both of the parents in the writing. “When I’m not with Daniel,” Miranda admits to Mrs. Doubtfire at one point, “I’m better. And I’m sure he’s better without me, too.” And we saw throughout the film how true that was: Without Miranda there to pick up the slack and give Daniel the easy out on enforcing responsibility and general childcare, he had to learn to step up. And without having to feel like a constant nag and familial buzzkill, Miranda was able to chill out a bit. Mrs. Doubtfire really did effectively co-parent with her! Being apart made them both better parents.

And Daniel’s speech at the court; the love he had for his kids? How badly he needed them? That he wanted them in his life even after the divorce, and would do whatever it took to do so? It’s exactly what a young child wants to hear about fathers. That even when we don’t see them or have them around, they’re thinking about, fighting for, and caring about us, ’til the end. Of course, the film isn’t perfect, but its heart was earnest in its intent.

20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. courtesy Everett Collection)

My father did not turn out to be anything like Daniel Hillard during or after the nasty battle that followed, but the magical potential I saw in Mrs. Doubtfire of what life could be in a divorced family brought my tiny heart hope. It made the whole ordeal feel less ostracizing and more survivable. Maybe dad wasn’t around because he was out there looking for a job and a good home for us to be able to visit — and after all that happened, mom would be happier, and so would dad, and we’d all be okay in the end. Because “there are all sorts of different families,” as Mrs. Doubtfire tells Katie McCormack at the end of her children’s show, “but if there’s love, dear… you’ll have a family in your heart forever.”


Mrs. Doubtfire was released on November 24, 1993.

#1

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
71%

#1
Adjusted Score: 74.696%
Critics Consensus: On paper, Mrs. Doubtfire might seem excessively broad or sentimental, but Robin Williams shines so brightly in the title role that the end result is difficult to resist.
Synopsis: After out-of-work actor Daniel Hilliard (Robin Williams) loses custody of his three children to his ex-wife Miranda (Sally Field), he... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

Tag Cloud

renewed TV shows twilight nfl Black Mirror theme song Amazon Studios Discovery Channel space SDCC political drama critics RT History MTV christmas movies strong female leads transformers Esquire Fox News BBC One WarnerMedia TCM Bravo south america Winter TV biography based on movie black dceu Tubi Kids & Family WGN Cannes Mindy Kaling Sci-Fi sitcom werewolf CBS All Access binge boxing Film cops dc revenge crime drama Star Trek quibi video on demand El Rey 2021 football TV cooking dark Tomatazos Pop Opinion worst movies Interview Video Games fast and furious Marathons ABC Signature french saw President Warner Bros. disaster telelvision Writers Guild of America National Geographic nbcuniversal Universal superman golden globes franchise natural history romantic comedy 24 frames obituary The Purge archives casting FX on Hulu Thanksgiving GLAAD ViacomCBS Black History Month a nightmare on elm street prank HBO Fall TV VICE scary movies what to watch Netflix rotten A&E USA Network Ellie Kemper FX PaleyFest Funimation breaking bad Trivia ID Chilling Adventures of Sabrina worst APB robots Musical all-time Anna Paquin Heroines 45 Set visit Turner TLC TV Land versus Action mission: impossible The Academy crime thriller Lifetime Christmas movies OWN Star Wars TCA doctor who TV renewals SXSW docuseries Disney streaming service indiana jones comiccon television Sneak Peek cars TCA Awards Comedy reviews golden globe awards History Spectrum Originals Election Freeform cartoon composers MSNBC discovery italian Exclusive Video fresh BBC America supernatural Ghostbusters Fox Searchlight screen actors guild stand-up comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Amazon Prime psychological thriller Country travel high school police drama cinemax Turner Classic Movies spanish language hist Pride Month Apple TV Plus See It Skip It Teen IFC singing competition Disney Channel name the review Holidays game of thrones Mary Tyler Moore FOX Lionsgate medical drama DC Comics YouTube Premium DirecTV true crime anthology Marvel new star wars movies japanese Starz toronto thriller free movies kong Television Critics Association rotten movies we love BBC TNT Valentine's Day 99% serial killer Grammys 2016 HBO Go Countdown psycho Baby Yoda canceled sports comedies HBO Max Shondaland BET spinoff Masterpiece ABC Family spain ITV Emmys The Witch technology cancelled TV shows Showtime Superheroe Pet Sematary Lucasfilm Crackle TCA Winter 2020 green book DC Universe popular aliens Spike Brie Larson Mudbound Netflix Christmas movies Amazon BET Awards Holiday rom-coms Ovation CW Seed documentaries Creative Arts Emmys crime Awards zombie satire Reality Competition razzies American Society of Cinematographers kids Nickelodeon joker Superheroes Biopics Awards Tour YouTube DC streaming service Trailer TBS X-Men 21st Century Fox Shudder Disney+ Disney Plus scorecard Marvel Studios Hulu TruTV pirates of the caribbean deadpool Rock screenings Infographic Calendar ghosts parents Vudu Alien award winner DGA stoner directors Cosplay Crunchyroll San Diego Comic-Con 2019 streaming Chernobyl OneApp Amazon Prime Video concert TV One dragons Martial Arts Comedy Central Christmas Captain marvel criterion Premiere Dates Elton John cancelled First Reviews Sundance Now Watching Series Spring TV Red Carpet miniseries Trophy Talk slashers Dark Horse Comics cancelled TV series book adaptation CBS Legendary diversity 72 Emmy Awards sag awards PlayStation spy thriller romance Rom-Com universal monsters classics Polls and Games laika halloween facebook RT21 films Apple Rocketman Lifetime Comics on TV war vampires Mystery james bond mockumentary Rocky sequel Britbox kaiju comics cults Oscars 007 tv talk zombies LGBTQ documentary dogs witnail LGBT Summer SundanceTV 2015 science fiction Fantasy Nat Geo USA Pop TV boxoffice monster movies jurassic park Animation nature 93rd Oscars social media Broadway blaxploitation Paramount spider-man New York Comic Con animated sequels Hallmark Christmas movies CMT YouTube Red festival Peacock NBC toy story Emmy Nominations die hard Adult Swim festivals Television Academy richard e. Grant Tumblr australia Paramount Network Mary Poppins Returns CNN canceled TV shows indie Acorn TV IFC Films 4/20 Super Bowl historical drama Paramount Plus Women's History Month adventure Photos comic books rt archives teaser anime Marvel Television Extras Avengers AMC Disney Plus hidden camera Horror news stop motion justice league First Look harry potter 2017 godzilla Tarantino child's play heist movie video MCU 2018 Box Office Schedule ABC Sundance TV GIFs talk show Food Network 2020 Disney TCA 2017 Endgame hispanic GoT Apple TV+ Comic Book dramedy 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards trailers Quiz Pirates hollywood remakes Hear Us Out Pixar BAFTA children's TV women Classic Film latino finale Character Guide VH1 Music independent ratings Nominations blockbusters zero dark thirty crossover Arrowverse TIFF jamie lee curtis A24 best ESPN Academy Awards The CW Winners mutant Logo NYCC asian-american Toys halloween tv Hallmark cats emmy awards Song of Ice and Fire E3 Binge Guide Sony Pictures superhero series Podcast VOD Travel Channel spanish Walt Disney Pictures Columbia Pictures Syfy movies venice Reality Stephen King YA 20th Century Fox elevated horror E! king kong FXX foreign Mary poppins Musicals movie politics Western 71st Emmy Awards period drama Sundance The Walt Disney Company docudrama adaptation blockbuster unscripted Certified Fresh The Walking Dead chucky Best and Worst Epix comic game show cancelled television Family book Drama batman PBS Cartoon Network reboot The Arrangement Year in Review Film Festival