I've never dressed up like a woman.
I've never read Stuart Little. I've never liked soccer. I've never driven a Mercedes. I've never watched The Dick Van Dyke Show. I've never eaten poached salmon. My parents are not divorced. And until three months ago, I had never been to San Francisco.
Yet, for the past 20 years, every sentence within those two paragraphs has somehow been a part of life, thanks to Mrs. Doubtfire. This weekend marks two decades since the film made its debut, and it was an instant hit. Produced on an estimated $25 million budget, the movie netted $20.4 million on its first weekend alone, falling only to Jurassic Park among 1993's highest-earners.
In the greater scheme of what this film meant for society, it was about so much more than a family of five fighting its way through divorce. With two decades of hindsight in our favor, it's worth taking a few moments today to think about what the big screen showed us in 1993, and where those issues stand now.
Warning: spoilers abound, but you've had a really long time to see this movie, so no excuses.
Just a few minutes in, Daniel Hillard loses his job over an issue of conscience. Playing the voice of a cartoon parrot named Pudgy, he begins ad-libbing the scene to detract from the reality of the bird having a cigarette shoved into its mouth.
"Oh, I will not do this. I cannot! Oh, what a foul way for a bird to die! I don't want to get beak cancer. No! My lungs are blackened!"
Hillard refuses to stick to the script, and his boss threatens to fire him. He instead quits, refusing to send the message to younger viewers that it's okay to "light up."
Back in 1993, Department of Health and Human Services figures showed that 30.5 percent of high school students and 25 percent of all adults were cigarette smokers. By 2011, that number had plummeted to 18 and 19 percent, respectively.
Hillard grapples with not just a divorce, but also the challenge of finding a new job to help support his three children. His court liaison, Mrs. Sellner, points him in the direction of an employment office that leads to an interview at a television station. Fresh off that job as the voice of Pudgy, his expectations are bigger than reality.
Daniel: Oh, films! Will I be introducing these movies on air?
Tony: Not exactly.
Daniel: What do I do?
Tony: You take all these cans. You box 'em and you ship 'em. Then you box those cans over there. Ship them. Then more will come in. You box those, you ship those. Any questions?
Daniel: After you box 'em...?
Tony: You ship 'em. Lots of luck, smartass.
In the post-recession economy, the curse of the overqualified worker has continued to be ever-present. Look no further than recent how-to guides on "3 Reasons Employers Won't Hire 'Overqualified' Applicants" (AOL Jobs, 3/13/13) or "How To Get A Job If You're Overqualified" (5/2/13, Forbes).
Just as the couple teeters on the brink of divorce, Daniel's wife, Miranda, laments how his life of being between jobs is unfair compared to her full-time work as an interior designer.
Miranda: You have all the fun and I get whatever's left over.
Daniel: You chose the career.
Miranda: I have no choices here, Daniel. I have no choices! Even when I try to do something fun, you have to do it ten times bigger. I bring home a birthday cake and a few gifts. You bring home the goddamn San Diego Zoo and I have to clean up after it!
According to an August 2013 Telegraph report, in Great Britain, where Mrs. Doubtfire came from, records for stay-at-home vs. working moms began in 1993. At that time, 2.91 million women fell in the stay-at-home category. By 2013, that number fell to a record-low 2.04 million.
In order to fulfill his role as a housekeeper dressed like a woman, Daniel works tirelessly to improve his domestic skills. He does so with an Amish-home-study course, learning how to cook, clean, bake and sew. When Miranda comes to his apartment to pick up the children, she remarks how impressed she is, prompting Daniel to ask if he can watch the kids after school again.
Miranda: I can't get rid of Mrs Doubtfire. She's terrific.
Daniel: Why not?
Miranda: She's the best thing that ever happened to us. The kids are all doing better in school. Chris is passing every single subject. I find myself getting home early just to be with them. We're all doing so great.
Daniel: Sounds like an amazing woman. Too good to be true.
Similarly to the working mothers story, according to a July 2013 Guardian report, in Great Britain, where Mrs. Doubtfire came from, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled.
After the couple comes to terms with their divorce being actualized, Daniel lands in the hands of two caring family members. His brother, "Uncle Frank," takes him in until he lands on his feet. Frank is a makeup artist who, together with his partner, "Aunt Jack," happily run their business.
Frank: Enough already. It's a man.
Jack: How would you know?
Frank and Jack also play an integral role in the creation of Mrs. Doubtfire, putting together everything from the face mask to the bodysuit.
Frank: Daniel, hi.
Daniel: Could you make me a woman?
Frank: Honey, I'm so happy! Oh, come here.
Daniel: I knew you'd understand.
Back in 1993, the U.S. was still three years away from DOMA being enacted and 10 years away from Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Contrast that with today, where DOMA was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and 16 states plus the District of Columbia have said yes to gay marriage.
The Evolution of Print Media
Daniel's whole Mrs. Doubtfire scheme thrives off of Miranda's decision to place an ad in the local newspaper. During her first trip to Daniel's new apartment, she is far from impressed and attempts to rush the kids out, citing errands. One of those errands is dropping off an ad at the "newspaper office" for a housekeeper, prompting a flurry of questions from Daniel.
Daniel: Why do you need a housekeeper?
Miranda: I need someone to be there when the children get home from school, to clean, start dinner...
Daniel: How much are you gonna pay this person?
Miranda: $300 a week. Is that all right?
Daniel: May I see the ad? I have a right as their father. Please?
Miranda: All right. Anything else you wanna see?
Daniel: Are you offering?
Miranda: Not any more.
Daniel: What's the change?
After looking over the ad, Daniel suggests that he watch the children after school, sparking nothing but excitement from the kids and an "I'll think about it," from Miranda. To skew the results so no one else can call, Daniel changes a few numbers on the newspaper ad, and eventually sets up his own interview as Mrs. Doubtfire.
For perspective's sake on where newspapers are today, look no further than the Pew Research Journalism Project's August 2013 assessment of the Washington Post. Back in 1993, the paper's daily circulation peaked at 832,332. By September 2012, that number was almost cut in half to 484,385.
The presence of elements like that newspaper ad prompt the question -- would these issues have had the same lasting effect with today's technology? Here's a 2013 hypothetical situation that makes me think no:
In addition to the body suit and mask, Daniel asks Frank to make him a Mrs. Doubtfire Facebook profile. He sends Miranda a message about an ad he saw on Craigslist. Miranda refuses to return Mrs. Doubtfire's calls for an interview because she finds that her number of friends and pictures is far too small.
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