Mrs. Doubtfire and the Theme of Loneliness

There's sadness behind the silly smiles and pie faces.

Mrs Doubtfire
Mrs Doubtfire

Mrs Doubtfire is an interesting piece of cinema. It’s one of those films from the 90s that still resonates with us decades later. It’s a movie which I personally loved growing up as a kid but found new appreciation for as an adult. There is an underlying theme in Mrs. Doubtfire that flew over my head when I was younger, but which stands out more profoundly to me now.
It’s the feeling of loneliness.

If you need a refresher on the film’s plot, it follows the character of Daniel – played by the late, great Robin Williams – a voice actor who has recently quit his job and is going through a divorce. Separated from his family, he disguises himself as Mrs Doubtfire, an elderly housekeeper, so that he can get a job working for his ex-wife Miranda – Sally Field – and spend more time with his children. Along the way, Miranda starts dating Stuart – Pierce Brosnan – an old lover of hers and the subject of Daniel’s animosity.

Though the film is portrayed as a comedy, the bare bones plot structure and character motivations are quite sad, centering around this family who is trying to build itself back together. The harsh court ruling at the start of the film forces Daniel to go to drastic measures to be able to see his family again. However, the character of Miranda is just as affected as well.

As a kid, Miranda was this bossy character who felt irredeemable for splitting up the family by going for a divorce. Now, though, as an adult with responsibilities and stresses, she’s more of a sympathetic character: a professional who is trying to delicately balance her working life and family life with a chaotic ex-husband. He literally brings farmyard animals into the house in the opening act!

During a discussion she has with Mrs Doubtfire, it does seem like Miranda did genuinely love Daniel. However, a rift started to split them apart as they grew older, and it’s not until Daniel dons the disguise of Mrs Doubtfire and grows close to Miranda that he properly understands what caused that split. It is this divorce between Daniel and Miranda that acts as the conflict of the movie. It’s their differences as people and the miscommunication in their relationship that put the story in motion. At the start of Mrs Doubtfire, Daniel doesn’t seem to understand why Miranda wants a divorce; he almost views it as her way of hurting him. However, in his final monologue at the film’s conclusion, where he is addressing a letter as Mrs Doubtfire, he seems to understand why the divorce happened. The movie only gets its happy ending at the resolution of this conflict.

Meanwhile, as for Miranda’s relationship with Stuart, they seem more compatible. The communication between her and Stuart is clearer and more succinct. As well as the characters always having a soft spot for the other, they seem to be working in very similar fields, so perhaps Stuart can relate more to the stresses that Miranda experiences more than Daniel can.

Additionally, the character of Stuart developed along with my changing perspective. Through the lenses of childhood, he was the baddie — how dare he try and steal Daniel’s family. But as an adult, what was his crime? There’s a conversation he has with his friend which makes him human, giving him a sympathetic angle which I don’t think I understood as a child.

“No kidding, you? A guy who is never having kids, won’t have anything to do with kids, you won’t even date a woman who’s got kids!”

“People change, Ron. I’m pushing 40, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life by myself.”

Unlike most villains of 90s family films, he wasn’t trying to steal the big family fortune or take part in some nefarious plot that demanded the hero’s intervention. All he really seems to want is the very human desire of companionship — his only mistake is coming into the wrong family. Granted, some of the dialogue he has is written to make him come off as unlikable to the audience, but he stands out from other antagonists in the fact that he is not very villainous.

But it’s this want to not be alone that also creates an odd similarity that the protagonist and antagonist of the film share. While Daniel is scruffy and carefree, struggling for work and to rebuild his life, Stuart comes off as a man of success. He is always well dressed, charmingly charismatic, and seems to have a good job (he drives around in a Mercedes). However, both characters share this desire to not be alone. Daniel spends the whole film trying to get his children back, while Stuart simply says that he doesn’t want to be alone. It creates a sort of yin and yang relationship between them, which is very interesting upon reflection.

Loneliness is the biggest driving force of the main character’s motivations. It’s what causes Daniel to grow through such a wild process to be able to see his children as much as he can. It’s what causes Miranda to befriend Mrs Doubtfire. It’s what makes Stuart seek out Miranda and want to start a relationship with her. It is a fear that is all too relatable, and maybe that’s what has made it such a classic film. It has brilliantly written comedy which can be appreciated from a young age, but it also boasts strong themes which carry on into adulthood. None of us want to be alone, we all want to be loved in some shape or form, and Mrs Doubtfire tackles this in a brilliant way.

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