Mrs. Doubtfire has been playing on HBO this month, and because I’m basically a hermit who keeps the TV on all day, I eventually wound up watching it (for the hundredth time) this week.
To be honest, I’d been avoiding watching any Robin Williams movies since his death. He was such an integral part of my cultural education, the thought of seeing his talented face on screen now that he’s gone was just really sad for me. But there I was, getting carried away by Williams’ effervescent vocal stylings, physical humor and twinkling eyes, and the movie whisked me away just like it used to, all the way to that climactic dinner table scene where Mrs. Doubtfire finally gets unmasked and Miranda Hillard’s brain short-circuits.
But this time, as I watched that dinner scene unfold, the nostalgia faded away and something akin to horror crept in, because it suddenly hit me how screwed up the emotional punch that Mrs. Doubtfire (aka Daniel Hillard, aka the craziest ex-husband ever) visits upon his ex-wife truly is. I mean, in any other genre film, this would be abundantly clear. But because we’re in comedy land (and because Robin Williams is a comedic genius), the character’s good intentions and jokes makes us root for him even as his wife experiences a completely understandable meltdown of epic proportions.
Which leads me to this: although Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the funniest, most endearing and ultimately sweet-messaged movies of all time, the basic premise of a man crawling into a false skin in order to work his way into the home (and hearts) of others isn’t sweet — it’s damned creepy.
And eerily familiar.
I mean, as I sat there, mouth agape at how totally effed up the premise of this movie really is, it hit me: I may not have an ex-husband hiding in a fat suit in my kitchen, but I have totally been Mrs. Doubtfire’d before.
I’ll bet I’m not the only one, either.
My Mrs. Doubtfire was an alcoholic suffering from OCD who liked to tell me I should learn how to stop pissing him off so that he didn’t need to say hurtful things to me anymore.
But that’s not who he was when I met him. No — when I met him, he was taking court-mandated meditation classes and going to weekly AA meetings (all due to his second recently acquired DUI). I didn’t know any of that, though. All I knew was that this man-giant with a super-handsome chin was polite, sensitive and down to treat me with care.
But that was all just because he had his “suit” on — the “I’m a good guy” suit that more and more guys seem to be wearing these days.
The only problem was, as the months passed and it became obvious he’d hooked me, that this handsome, funny and seeming sweetheart of a man began to leave pieces of his suit behind, revealing a mega-mean mess beneath.
Which is when I began a slow-motion Sally Fields mind-melt of my own, as I tried to reconcile the shouting giant looming over me in my kitchen with the sweet guy I’d met at my bestie’s birthday bash six short months ago.
How could the same guy who wooed me with movies in the park and romantic candlelit dinners be yelling at me now because he didn’t like the way I blew my nose? My attempts to “understand” him were fruitless because, beneath his Mrs. Doubtfire–style veneer of good humor and intelligence, there lived a completely irrational being; there was nothing more to understand than this, yet it took months of counseling and numerous other fights before I would have that epiphany.
And now I wonder how many other women meet and fall in love with these suited-up men pretending to be the spit-polished, absolute best version of themselves, only to be left dumbstruck when the dudes punch through the proverbial latex and deposit a whole lot of ugly at their feet.
It makes your head spin.
I recently got off the phone with a very dear friend in LA who is dating her own Mrs. Doubtfire. He’s in love with her one moment, talking about starting a family and all the other “forever” things a gal dreams about, and then the next moment, he’s accusing her of lying to him about getting mugged in a bid to make him feel bad about not letting her park in his space when she stays over at his apartment. WTF?
And yet, the problem with the Mrs. Doubtfire type is that his costume is so believable, his accent so polished, his dance moves so rehearsed, that you don’t realize what he is until it’s too late for a clean break.
Which makes for a slow crawl to the finish line.
The selfish and manipulative man at the center makes you think the marathon is worth it by convincing you he’s some kind of work in progress, only to leave you in a blubbering heap as he slowly peels back the mask to prove that the “work” is you and what’s in progress is the destruction of your psyche.
When I think back to those heart-wrenching days with my Mrs. D, I remember being overcome with self-doubt, anger, fear and confusion. Thankfully, I have a support network that was able to help me finally see that the man I fell in love with didn’t actually exist — at least, not in the form in which he had introduced himself to me.
Instead, I’d fallen in love with a costume, and once I saw the guy within, I had a choice: I could try to love his ugly interior in the hope that one day his “suit” would win out over the real him, or I could cut and run.
Fortunately, I cut and run.
But I never forgot the lesson.
Now, strangely enough, whenever I watch Mrs. Doubtfire, I’ll remember it.