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This movie won an Oscar for Best Makeup.

‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 24, 1993

Why can't a woman be more like a man dressed like a woman?

"Mrs. Doubtfire," a kind of "Charley's Aunt" with voguish family values, skirts the issue with hairy-legged hilarity and hug-a-bug-ability. Produced by Robin Williams and the nanny he married, Marsha Garces Williams, the material is chiefly a showcase for the star's comic genius, but it also has a thing or two to say about rearing children -- the adorable sort that do cereal commercials.

Williams, at the top of his frenetic form, rips through a barrage of familiar impersonations -- Gandhi to Tweety Bird to Barbra Streisand -- before settling into the grandmotherly title role. He's downright irresistible as the redoubtable old housekeeper, who appears to be the love child of Mary Poppins and Hulk Hogan's "Mr. Nanny."

Based on the book "Alias Madame Doubtfire" by Anne Fine, the film is focused on Daniel Hillard (Williams), a childlike actor who is "addicted" to his adoring kids. The very qualities that endear him to them -- a sweet flakiness and a freewheeling sense of fun -- prevent him from being a good husband to Miranda (Sally Field), a career gal who divorces him and wins custody of the kids.

Unwilling to be parted from the moppets for even a day, Daniel disguises himself as the dowdy Mrs. Doubtfire and is hired on as Miranda's housekeeper. Of course, nobody in her right mind would be fooled, but that is, of course, Victor/Victoria's Secret -- the essence of both the movie's heart and its howls.

Daniel, taken into his wife's confidence as Mrs. Doubtfire, learns what she really thought of him: "I just didn't like who I was with him." Meanwhile, Daniel, a full-figured old gal, catches the eye of a bachelor bus driver (Sydney Walker), who is not the least put off by a glimpse of Doubtfire's furry thigh: "I like that Mediterranean look. It's natural, healthy."

Inevitably, our hero has the all-too-familiar problems with high heels and purse snatchers, but these prerequisites of cross-dressing are quickly dispensed with. Daniel, you see, has had lessons from professionals -- not to mention the blessing of genuine gay people. Indeed, his transformation comes courtesy of his makeup artist brother (Harvey Fierstein, a dishy footnote) and his kittenish lover (Scott Capurro).

As "Uncle Frank and Aunt Jack," they are very much a part of this movie family, an inclusive organism that extends finally to Miranda's new boyfriend (Pierce Brosnan), who like Mom herself is little more than a dandy foil for the hero. Others include local favorite Robert Prosky as the crusty station manager who helps Daniel toward a happy ending and Anne Haney as the court-appointed sourpuss who investigates Daniel's parental suitability.

The most thankless role belongs to Field, who is career mom as scapegoat for the downfall of civilization. But Field perseveres, recalling Cinderella's buddies, the cartoon bluebirds. And while Williams gets the big sappy speech at the end -- the one about there being all kinds of families and that's okay -- Field gets to the crux of the matter. "Mrs. Doubtfire brought out the best in {the children} and in you," she says. "And you," he says.

In "Tootsie," Dustin Hoffman found that he was actually nicer in a dress too -- which in no way explains why women remain basically unchanged when clad in pantsuits. But that is not the point. Maybe there is no point, except to laugh while absorbing the goopy propaganda. And you will laugh till your ribs ache -- not because director Chris Columbus of the "Home Alone" movies has a gift for farce, which he does, but because Williams is to funny what the Energizer Bunny is to batteries. He keeps going and going and going.

"Mrs. Doubtfire" is rated PG-13 for mild profanity.

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