ROBIN WILLIAMS COOKS UP A STORM IN “MRS. DOUBTFIRE” ( 1993 )

“For me, comedy starts as a spew, a kind of explosion, and then you sculpt it from there, if at all. It comes out of a deeper, darker side. Maybe it comes from anger, because I’m outraged by cruel absurdities, the hypocrisy that exists everywhere, even within yourself, where it’s hardest to see.”

( Robin Williams )

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An unprecedented comedic genius who epitomized humor in modern cinema with his natural wit, superlative talents, and boundless energy, Robin Williams brought happiness into the lives of millions worldwide by excelling in making people laugh.

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In today’s Hollywood where manufactured stars seem to adorn our screens, Robin Williams was as authentic as they come. His originality combined with his effervescent and fun-loving nature transformed him into a beloved cultural icon who is adored by generations.

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In every performance he delivered, Robin Williams gives viewers a glimpse into the window of his genius. One role that really transcended his talents is that of Daniel Hillard in the 1993 film, Mrs. Doubtfire, in which he played a devoted father who disguises himself as a elderly female housekeeper, so he can spend time with his children.

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From the moment Mrs. Doubtfire was first conceived, the film acquired all the right ingredients for success. The idea originated when Anne Fine’s award winning novel, Madame Doubtfire was published in 1987. Six years later, Fine’s imaginary tale was brought to life on screen with Robin Williams playing the central protagonist. Screen writers, Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon wrote the screen play while Legendary film maker, Chris Columbus directed with the accelerator on full speed. Joining the fellow crew members were Robin, his wife, Marsha Garces Williams and Mark Radcliffe who occupied the producers chair.

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The magic was initially set to unfold in Chicago, but because the city already had a lease with two other television productions during that time, San Francisco became the residence of the Hillard family. The setting was a Victorian style stately and commodious mansion situated at 2640 Steiner Street. A large number of scenes were shot at the home, providing us viewers with a virtual tour of the luxurious dwelling. However, it has been stated that the interior shots were filmed in a Bay Area warehouse. In addition to the Hillard’s grandiose property, audiences are also given a birds eye view of San Francisco when Mrs. Doubtfire is seen venturing around the city with the children.

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In the years proceeding the release of Mrs. Doubtfire, the Steiner Street residence has become an iconic landmark for tourists, but when Robin Williams died in 2014, the Hillard mansion immediately transformed into an impromptu memorial. On the day the news leaked out, hundreds of fans gathered outside the house, paying tribute to the actor who broke the silence with his laughter.

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The image of Robin Williams dressed as Euphegenia Doubtfire is eternally etched in the hearts of millions worldwide, but before he played everyone’s favorite English housekeeper, Williams had charted many different territories, and succeeded at whatever avenue he followed. We were first introduced to this phenomenal human-being when he arrived on Hollywood soil as Mork, the wacky alien in the famed American sitcom, Mork & Mindy. When the actor became an household name, his status ascended, and soon his presence would be gracing cherished films such as, Dead Poets Society, Jumanji, Good Morning Vietnam, Patch Adams, and Good Will Hunting. 

“Did you ever wish you could sometimes freeze frame a moment in your day, look at it and say “this is not my life”?

As strange as it may seem, Mrs. Doubtfire garnered mixed reviews and was a moderate success on its release. Compared to other cross-dressing vehicles like Tootsie ( 1982 ) and Some Like It Hot ( 1959 ), the film hardly made an impression. David Ansen from Newsweek wrote, “I’ve rarely laughed at a movie so much that I generally disliked.”. Janet Maslin from The New York Times stated, “The dress, the mask and Mrs. Doubtfire’s gentility are inherently limiting, but nothing holds Mr. Williams back when he’s on a roll. Brian Lowry from Variety had a slightly different opinion, and paid emphasis on the positive aspects of the movie when he said, “Although overly sappy in places and probably twenty minutes too long, this Robin Williams-in-drag vehicle provides the comic a slick surface for doing his shtick, within a story possessing broad family appeal.”. As the years progressed, Mrs. Doubtfire soared in popularity, and is now considered to be one of the greatest productions to adorn cinema screens.

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Despite the constant panning of the movie, the film industry and Hollywood studio moguls viewed the film as a distinguishable feature that was equipped with efficacious additives. They also seen Robin Williams as the perfect condiment to any production. Ultimately, Mrs. Doubtfire triumphed. Robin Williams attained the Golden Globe for his performance, while the film won for Best Picture and Best Makeup. For his role, Robin Williams spent up to three or four hours in the make up chair. You can watch a video about the makeup process here.

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With the success of Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams was trying to adjust to the whirlwind of fame, which had largely impacted his life. He couldn’t leave his home without being confronted by a deluge of autograph seekers or photographers, who kept springing questions on to him. What he needed was a break away from the cameras. When the stress of movie making began to take it’s toll, he packed up his family and embarked on a journey to Italy, where they stayed in a luxurious villa. In Italy, Robin was free to be himself. He could spend time with his children and explore the countryside without encountering a barrage of photographers.

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Adding to his worries were the difficulties that he was enmeshed in back on the home front. Fueling these altercations were the strains that came with preparation and moving. In the months prior to their Italy vacation, Robin and his wife, Marsha were getting ready to finalize their move to a 12,000-foot estate overlooking the San Francisco Bay. By the time they had relocated to their new residence, Marsha had become the instrumental force behind a lot of Robin’s career moves. She served as her husbands protector and managed to rescue him from the turbulence that dominated the film industry.

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While Marsha was often commended for the tremendous support she had given her husband, some people looked at their working relationship through a different light. To these individuals, Marsha embodied all the characteristics of a pushy Hollywood wife. What they didn’t understand is that Robin considered Marsha to be the power behind his consummation. Along with his wife, Robin founded the Blue Wolf Production Company, and together they assisted each other in project canvassing and script analyzing. Not long after the establishment, Mrs. Doubtfire was born.

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THE PLOT

In a role that best defines the comedienne, Robin Williams portrays Daniel Hillard, an amiable but eccentric voice actor and devoted father to three children, Lydia, Chris, and Natalie. When a surprise birthday party for his son creates havoc, his wife, Miranda ( Sally Field ) files for divorce. Having just left his job, Daniel is granted visitation rights every Saturday while Miranda is given sole custody of the children.

To further complicate matters, Miranda puts out an ad for a housekeeper to watch over the children when they arrive home from school. Daniel, who has just secured a position at a local television station, feels that Miranda is depriving him of his own children, and manipulates her plans by altering the advertisement, so other interested prospects can’t inquire about the job. Possessed with an air of eccentricity, Daniel relies on his creative flair for voice impersonating to save him from the exigencies of not seeing his children, and disguises himself as a Scottish nanny named Euphegenia Doubtfire then applies for the position. Much to his surprise, Miranda is impressed with the maid, and Mrs. Doubtfire is immediately hired.

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THE FOOD IN MRS. DOUBTFIRE

Food plays a pivotal role all through out the movie. As Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel is forced to expose himself to duties that he once considered to be menial tasks. When he was married to Miranda, Daniel never carried out any household chores, and usually failed at anything that required him to be serious, but now that Daniel has landed the job of housekeeper, he must cook, clean and perform other tasks that has been assigned.

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At first, the idea of honing his domestic skills seem impossible to Daniel, but with sheer determination and compassion, he knows that he can succeed. His first attempt at cooking dinner as Mrs. Doubtfire turns disastrous when he burns the hollandaise sauce, drops a pot of potatoes in boiling water on the floor, and burns and destroys another pot while trying to prepare food. Just when things are already hilariously out of hand, more problems arise when his silicon body suit catches fire as he leans over the stove to try and salvage the curdling hollandaise sauce. In a state of panic, he calls Valenti’s to get dinner delivered, and pays the driver $135 for food and damaged goods. Surprisingly, his chaotic mess goes undiscovered. Instead, Miranda and the children are elated when they enter the formal dining area and find the room decked out lavishly with candles, fancy cutlery, and the plates creatively adorned with pasta, shrimp and carrots, which they believe were cooked by Mrs. Doubtfire.

“Look at this! My first day as a woman and I’m getting hot flashes.”

In due time Daniel is able to morph himself from an amateur cook to a capable chef, who enjoys preparing meals for his family. His sudden burst of inspiration is drawn from Julia Child, the prominent chef whose introductory to French cuisine had a large impact on American households. After attaining tips and different meal ideas by watching Child’s episodes, Mrs. Doubtfire is able to cook crayfish for the family, and when he has the children on a Saturday afternoon, he makes spaghetti bolognese, and astonishes Miranda with his newfound talents.

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In order to dress as Mrs. Doubtfire, and to spend time with his children, there is a price that Daniel must pay. Miranda has been seeing Stu Dunmeyer ( Pierce Brosnan ), who is pursuing a relationship with her. When Stu arranges a birthday dinner for Miranda at Bridges Restaurant, perplexing dilemmas ensue. Because Mrs. Doubtfire is considered to be part of the family, Miranda asks her to join them at the restaurant. The set of problems emerge when Daniel tries to postpone a dinner date with the station’s CEO, Jonathan Lundy at the same restaurant on the same night. Trouble starts to brew when he is unable to change the appointment, which leaves Daniel with a difficult decision to make.

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Daniel is entangled in a confounding cobweb. He wants to attend Miranda’s birthday function, but he also wants to have dinner with Jonathon Lundy. With whatever decision he makes, he knows he will run into a challenge. After being thrust into the throes of danger, it will be hard to elude the mess that he would likely get himself into. However, he decides to take a risk by rotating in and out of the Mrs. Doubtfire costume to be present at both engagements.

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From the moment he enters the restaurant, Daniel is treading in dangerous waters, but before any obstacles occur, hilarious results begin to proceed when Daniel gets slightly intoxicated and starts making mistakes, which he succeeds in covering up. Perhaps the funniest moment of the entire movie happens towards the end of the famous Bridges Restaurant scene when Stu Dunmeyer orders dinner. Allergic to spicy food or anything that contains pepper, Stu requests that his Jambalaya be brought out very mild. Daniel however, decides to take revenge on Stu. As he exits the bathrooms after changing into his Mrs. Doubtfire costume, he invades the kitchen and picks up a bottle that reads “Hot Cayenne Pepper”, and pours most of the contents of the bottle into Stu’s Jambalaya, causing him to choke at the first mouthful.

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Anyone who is familiar with Mrs. Doubtfire would know that the movie is just not about food. This is a film that explores a crucial subject matter. Divorce, separation, and custody battles are a common thing that happens everyday in the world. As is the case with many real life scenarios, Miranda is the one who gains sole custody of the children. Daniel as we know is a devoted father who loves his children, and would not be able to endure the pain of being without them, but because he is unemployed and living in an unsuitable residence, he is only allowed visitation rights once a week.

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 Mrs. Doubtfire is a cinematic treasure. In addition to the touching and poignant story is Donald McAlpine’s masterful cinematography, and the glorious music score by Howard Shore. Adding to these redeeming features is the stellar cast. Robin Williams was a tremendously gifted actor with his own scripted brand of comic artistry. His performance as Euphegenia Doubtfire is solid proof of his acting ability that could not be surpassed.

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Robin Williams preached hilarity, and taught people how to overcome the misfortunes through comedy. But sadly for Robin, life itself was a villain. Behind all that laughter lived a tormented soul who spent years trying to defeat the demons that would ultimately lead to tragedy. On August 11, 2014, the movie industry died when everybody’s favorite funny man committed suicide at his Paradise Cay home.

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Rest In Eternal Peace Robin Williams. The laughter may have stopped, but audiences worldwide will still continue to follow your ingenious trail of artistry that you left behind.

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TRIVIA:

Talk of a sequel began in 2003, with a script being written by Bonnie HuntRobin Williamswas set to return in disguise as an old nanny like in the first movie. Due to problems with the script, re-writing began in early 2006 as Robin was allegedly unhappy with the plot. The film was expected to be released in late 2007, but following further script problems, the sequel was declared “scrapped” in mid 2006. The sequel’s story was originally said to involve Williams, as Mrs. Doubtfire, moving close to his daughter’s college, so he could keep an eye on her. Serious discussions regarding the sequel re-ignited in April 2014, with an announcement that Robin Williams and Chris Columbus would be teaming up with Fox 2000 to produce the sequel. Williams’ sudden death just four months later ultimately sealed the project’s fate once and for all. No one replaced him either.

Robin Williams used much of his real childhood nanny to characterize Mrs. Doubtfire. When British tabloids found this out, they went looking for his former nanny. They found his real nanny, “Lolly”, in a Michigan nursing home, and the reporters and photographers flocked to the little town to get an interview with her. Lolly balked at the attention and downplayed her impressive role. (The reporter found out Lolly had in fact been a nanny to other Hollywood celebrities, including Mr. and Mrs. Lyle Waggoner.) As a result, the local newspaper ran a story of Lolly with the heading “The Real Mrs. Doubtfire”.

Chris Columbus was amazed how far Robin Williams took his performance. First, he played each scene as scripted two to three times, and then was allowed to improvise, or “playing” as Williams called it. Columbus allowed Williams a lot of improvisation, because that was where the film’s funniest material came from; in fact, Columbus called it magical at times.

Robin Williams would walk around San Francisco as Mrs. Doubtfire to see if he could get away with it. On one occasion, he visited a sex shop to buy a large dildo and other toys.

Mrs. Doubtfire marked the film debut of Mara Wilson.

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CAST:

Robin Williams: Born, Robin McLauren Williams on July 21st, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois. Died: August 11th, 2014 in Paradise Cay, California. Aged 63. Cause of death: Suicide by hanging.

Sally Field: Born, Sally Margaret Field on November 6th, 1946 in Pasadena, California.

Pierce Brosnan: Born, May 16th, 1953 in Drogheda, Republic of Ireland.

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This post was written for the Food In Film Blogathon, hosted by, Silver Screenings SpeakeasyTo read the other posts from the event, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “ROBIN WILLIAMS COOKS UP A STORM IN “MRS. DOUBTFIRE” ( 1993 )

    1. Constance Belanger

      Wow….never thought Mrs. Doubtfire was considered not a success….saw it in the theatre and for me loved it….I would say one having Robin Williams in it sold me…great review and trivia section…thanks for this sure learned a lot from your research….glad I have DVDs of Robin’s….

      Like

  1. Kimberly

    Well done! Watch this from time to time…it’s a hoot! Didn’t know it wasn’t a big success at first. Thanks for remembering Robin Williams in this way. ☺

    Like

  2. Wow – thanks for providing all this research, Crystal. So impressive! I had no idea a Mrs Doubtfire sequel was being considered.

    Before reading your essay, I didn’t realize how much food was a part of this film, including that great scene in the restaurant. But you’re right, “Mrs Doubtfire” does gain a lot of culinary skills.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon, and for bringing us this tribute to the wonderful & talented Robin Williams.

    Like

  3. Awesome review! The food in this movie did look fab, and Robin Williams was a treasure. I forgot to tell you before, but one of my sister-in-law’s nieces, Lindsay, was an extra in this movie–she was one of the little girls in the party scene. Unfortunately, you can barely see her, but she had a great time, anyway.

    Like

  4. Ken Gottlieb

    Such an engaging and reverent account of a comedic cinematic classic and of the unparalleled talent that was Mr. Robin Williams…Crystal’s articles about cinema classics are so wonderfully written!

    Like

  5. Great review! I love that scene when Mrs Doubtfire’s boobs catch fire! Robin was truly amazing, a really luminous human being.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

    Like

  6. Mike

    Great piece Crystal!!you’ve provided a lot of information that I didn’t know. Enjoyed both the background of the movie and the insight on the movie itself. You worked very hard on this review and it shows. Looking forward to future ones!!

    Like

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