I remember the stars. I was 10 years old. I had just taken the field during the final stretch of a Little League baseball playoff game, but my mind had drifted to earlier in that day when Jenny Cutalo had rejected one of my romantic overtures. “Timing,” she had said, in the same way a doctor might arrive at a diagnosis.
It was in that moment, as I was mentally digging through our conversations in search of buried signs of hope, that Gerard Walsh hit a line drive directly into my crotch. As I lay in the grass, overwhelmed with hurt, I remember looking at the stars and wondering how far the light had traveled to reach me. I heard the gentle whooshing of the wind through the trees and felt the grass brushing against my fingers. I remember thinking -- knowing -- that nothing could ever be so painful.
Five years later, Mrs. Doubtfire was released into theaters and proved me wrong; here is a movie endowed with the power to transform groin-hitting trauma into warm nostalgia.
The film features the dangerously bi-polar Robin Williams as a divorced man who is so desperate to see (and emotionally scar) his children, he devises a plan to circumvent his court-ordered restraining order. The plan? Simple. He answers an ad the family places for a nanny. But won’t his own family recognize him? Not at all, reasons Williams, producers, and the guy who recruited me as a suicide bomber, because he can simply don a dress and adopt an English accent! The producers and God do afford us small miracles – at least the family doesn’t place an ad for a dog.
There are subplots involving a budding romance between Williams’ ex-wife Miranda (Sally Field) and a charming and responsible suitor (Pierce Brosnan), but the movie exists simply to provide an outlet for Williams’ myriad of voices and to punish us for our transgressions.
In order to highlight the need for improved mental health care in America, I’ve selected Mrs. Doubtfire for this week’s edition of Fiction vs. Reality. Just how would this movie play out in real life? Perhaps we all can learn something from this sad and terrifying film.
Scenario # 1
What Happens: Daniel Hillard (Williams), father of three, quits his lucrative yet easy job as a voice-over artist after a heated dispute with his boss… about a smoking cartoon bird.
Hollywood Version: Concerned more with random children (and the messages they receive from cartoon birds) than providing for his own, Daniel finally takes a firm stand on an issue cared for by no one.
Voice Alert # 1: In process of quitting, Williams employs at least four voices including Porky Pig, John Wayne, an anonymous street thug, and Ed Sullivan. Curiously absent is the voice of reason. The happy music swells and the audience (in between suicide attempts), feels affection for Williams’ choice.
Reality: “What we have here,” says Dr. Phillip M. Dozois, psychiatrist and author of Crazy for You: Living with Schizophrenia, “is a classic case of a person with multiple personalities. I would suggest that he be placed under the care of a team of specialists immediately. Ironic that his mental instability will more profoundly harm his children than a smoking bird ever could.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: Seeking validation, Daniel pulls his kids from school (without his wife’s knowledge) and throws a party replete with barnyard animals, random 8 year-olds, and rap music played at a volume slightly softer than space shuttle launches.
Hollywood Version: Upon hearing that their college funds will be plundered to procure more anti-psych meds for their father, the kids… rejoice! His wife, who puts a stop to the numerous felonies occurring in their home, is portrayed as cruel. After years of Daniel’s lying, perpetual unemployment, and funny voices, it’s his approval of free-range mules in the living room that inspires her to finally ask for a divorce. Crushed, Daniel pleads like a child who has just been admonished and told he can longer use his funny voices.
Reality: According to Leslie Sleighner, Assistant District Attorney for Miami Beach County: “Daniel exhibits all the signs of pedophilia. When a 45 year-old man throws a party ostensibly for his 12 year-old son but rounds up children that range in ages from 2- 8 using petting zoos as bait, that’s a red flag. He would be under constant surveillance at that point. Frankly, the news of her asking for divorce would be met with shrieks of joy at the office. It requires great strength to leave an abusive relationship.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: During the custody hearing, the judge quite reasonably decrees that the children remain with their mother until their father finds and maintains a job, a place of residence, and a single personality.
Hollywood Version: Daniel delivers an impromptu yet impassioned sentence about how he simply “needs to be with his kids.” The judge grants Daniel three months to obtain employment and an apartment. Daniel is angry with everyone (except himself). The sad music swells.
Reality: According to judge Marshall Birkman, “Based upon the evidence and my 27 years on the bench, I would award full custody of the children to the mother. Since the husband is essentially another child, I would allow her to adopt him as well, although I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: After leaving his family (and acting like a sad child leaving for college), Daniel hops into his car and blows past a stop sign.
Hollywood Version: Other than a respite from funny voices, nothing happens.
Reality: “This is exactly the kind of information we need to know,” says Linda Carell, a San Diego divorce attorney. “Mr. Hillard’s depraved indifference to life makes him a threat not only to his family, but to society. Armed with this information, I would ensure that he be placed into a state sanitarium where he could be evaluated by a team of doctors. He would also be responsible for paying the $350 fine.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: Daniel seeks employment.
Hollywood Version: During an interview, when asked if he possesses special skills, Daniel replies, “I do voices!” Then, two things happen almost immediately:
1) Without prompting, he unleashes dozens of voices onto the interviewer.
2) I set myself on fire.
Note: Voices include Julia Child, an alien, a Pakistani man, a sexually aggressive T-Rex, Jimmy Durante, a guy who screams, “Yes,” an Italian gangster, a guy who shrugs his shoulders, James Bond, a radio announcer, Ronald Reagan, a man involved in what appears to be mid-defecation, Humphrey Bogart, a guy who sings “Figaro,” and finally, a hot dog. Yes, Dear Reader, a hot dog. I want you to read that last part again and imagine the sad conversations that must have transpired between the producers and crew (and their inner children) during the filming of this scene.
Reality: “The Bible tells us that everything happens for a reason,” says Reverend Milas J. Jones, “but after hours of prayer, I still come up empty. My congregation has suffered through death, hunger, and unemployment, but when they ask me how this scene is part of God’s plan, I must admit I have trouble responding.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: Daniel gets a job at a TV studio.
Hollywood Version: When Daniel assumes he will be the on-air talent, he is respectful to his boss; however, after realizing that his job entails boxing and shipping canisters, Daniel’s inner rage blooms. The boss simply laughs it off.
Reality: According to Gus De Boer, guidance counselor at John F. Kennedy High School, “This is the natural trajectory for students who underperform yet feel entitled. When a job is given to a 45-year old man with no skills or training – regardless of his penchant for funny voices -- he should treat the job with respect. In real life, he would be fired for his insubordination. I would, however, ask him to speak at our assembly – he would be part of our ‘Scared Straight’ program. We wouldn’t pay him but we would give him a shower and a warm meal.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: During Daniel’s scheduled visit with his children (in his shabby apartment), he complains about his troubles, wishes a deadly disease upon their mother, screams at them for leaving him (but makes up for it seconds later by wearing chopsticks as antennae), and sabotages his ex-wife’s attempts to hire a nanny by altering the phone number in her proposed ad.
Hollywood Version: The paper prints the incorrect phone number. Daniel chooses to employ his funny voices to make prank phone calls to his ex-wife.
Reality: “We have a series of checkpoints for all advertisements in our paper,” asserts Reggie Lewis, Deputy Editor of the Baltimore Sun. “Mrs. Hillard would receive at least two rounds of galley proofs that she would need to sign off on before we would even consider printing this ad. It’s standard procedure.” He continues: “These checkpoints are designed specifically to curtail the prank phone calls that might be made by teenagers or deranged 45-year olds equipped with a an arsenal of voices.”
Scenario # 8
What Happens: In lieu of following the judge’s request to obtain and maintain a respectable residence and job, Daniel chooses instead to dress up like an old woman (replete with British accent) and play nanny to his kids.
Hollywood Version: While his children suffer from the deep emotional trauma of divorce, Daniel trades laughs with his brother before invading his old home dressed as a 70-year old British nanny he calls “Mrs. Doubtfire.” This is played for laughs.
Reality: According to Natan Michaels, the film’s original composer: “I was dismayed. After reading the script, I had scored the film as if it were a horror movie. This scene in particular was terribly disorienting. I had written scary music to underscore the fact that this psychopathic father was so determined to inflict emotional pain on his family, that he would hide behind a mask much in the same way Freddy Krueger or Jason had. When I received notes from the studio suggesting that it should be a funny scene, I was incredulous. I resigned from the project immediately and have donated my partial salary to the national society for battered women and children."
Scenario # 9
What Happens: During a routine appointment, the social worker runs into “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
Hollywood Version: In lieu of murdering her, Daniel tells the social worker that “Mrs. Doubtfire” is his older sister/roommate. Her response? She is charmed! Also, Daniel showcases his latest disguise – a face filled with frosting that occasionally falls (as large chunks) into the social worker’s tea. Her response? She is charmed!
Reality: According to Gerard Noonen, sous chef at Nobu, “I’ve been in the food service industry for 30 years and not once has a customer ever responded with anything but outrage when something falls from a server’s face onto their food.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: “Mrs. Doubtfire” provocatively dances with a vacuum cleaner while Aerosmith’s Dude Looks Like A Lady plays on the soundtrack. Then, “Mrs. Doubtfire” provocatively dances with a broom while Aerosmith’s Dude Looks Like A Lady plays on the soundtrack. Then, I provocatively detonate explosives across the globe while Aerosmith’s Dude Looks Like A Lady plays on my iPod.
Hollywood Version: This transpires without a spike in local suicides.
Reality: According to God, “When I endowed humanity with Free Will, it never occurred to Me that someone would choose to inflict this pain upon us all. Prepare for the Rapture. You have made Me an angry God!”
Scenario # 11
What Happens: At a country club, “Mrs. Doubtfire” overhears his successful, mature, and caring romantic rival tell a friend that Daniel’s kids are wonderful. In fact, he will happily assume the now-vacant father figure role. When asked about the kids’ biological father, Brosnan responds that he is a “loser.”
Hollywood Version: Loser?! Daniel, the 45 year-old underemployed shipping clerk currently dressed in drag, pounding beers, hitting on girls, and hiding behind a fruit basket, is outraged! Does he respond by ending his charade, finding full-time employment and securing a nice apartment? Nah, that’s a loser move. Instead, he chucks pieces of fruit at the guy’s back.
Reality: “For people with these types of psychotic episodes,” says Dr. Marsha Warfeld, clinical psychologist and author of I love you; I hate you: Bi-Polar’s Duality, “a dose of reality would result in a psychotic break. Most likely, he would kill himself and everyone at the country club.”
Scenario # 12
What Happens: The executive producer of a TV show finds Daniel playing with toys. As a result of his playtime, a shipment is not sent out.
Hollywood Version: The exec is impressed and invites Daniel to a business dinner during which they can discuss his “ideas.”
Reality: “We don’t pay our employees to play with toys. If we miss one shipment, it costs the studios untold thousands. I would dock his pay and fire him immediately,” says Wilfred Martin, stock manager of CBS studios vault.
Scenario # 13
What Happens: For reasons unknown to mankind, “Mrs. Doubtfire” and Daniel are required to attend a dinner at the same time. During the meal, “Mrs. Doubtfire” takes a break from the hilarity to poison his romantic rival.
Hollywood Version: After “Mrs. Doubtfire” is exposed in the middle of a busy restaurant and his family abandons him, Daniel explodes, yelling, “What are you looking at?! Show’s over!”
Reality # 1: “The same principle that applies to rubbernecking during traffic accidents applies to spectators of a fight at a restaurant, “assert Clive Maudlin, Chief of Psychiatry at Bellevue. “And when one of those persons tries to murder the other one and is dressed as an obese grandmother, psychologically speaking, I would be worried if it didn’t draw attention.”
Reality # 2: “That’s a slam dunk attempted murder charge,” says district attorney Ron Golder. “He would be behind bars within the hour and that carries with it a mandatory 7-year sentence for each one of his voices. He would receive a 560-year prison sentence.”
Scenario # 14
What Happens: After denying visitation rights to Daniel, the judge (finally) orders that he undergo psychiatric evaluation.
Hollywood Version: The children, wife, and even Daniel agree that “Mrs. Doubtfire,” a figment of Daniel’s disorder, is more beloved than the actual guy. Defying the judge’s order, the wife agrees to let her abuser back into the children’s lives. In the final, devastating scene, Daniel takes the children away. Possibly for good.
Reality: According to Brian Scott, lead researcher at Friends’ Psychiatric Hospital, “This is not an ending but more likely the beginning of a sad and debilitating battle with mental illness. I’m not sure any of them will make it out alive. God help them all.”
Final Thought: The truth is that emotional immaturity will not earn you the respect of your wife and kids, funny voices won’t endear you to anyone, and the solution to any of life’s problems will never, ever involve your dressing up like an obese, rapping grandmother. (Unless you’re Tyler Perry.) Finally, Robin Williams, please stop hitting America in the groin with your voices and seek professional help.
Special Note: Good news! Jenny Cutalo is dead.