Mrs. Doubtfire is a corky, light hearted movie that gives a glimpse into the lives of a family going through a divorce. The film sheds light on the rockiness of a marriage between two middle aged parents. However, analyzing the movie from a different perspective paints it in a much darker tone. The comedy of the film covers up underlying predispositions the Western culture has on sex and gender. There are many blatant as well as minute details of the film that point not only to biases of sex and gender but also to the prevalence of gender roles.
Also the film shows the stresses of veering away from a social institution engraved into our society and how the viewer responds to that action. Within the movie Mrs. Doubtfire there are a plethora of examples of sociological themes, terms and theories. The film shows the complications of a family split apart by divorce. It can be seen through the perspective of a sociologist by taking a functionalist theory perspective.
Functionalist theory is “a theory that various social institutions and processes in society exist to serve some important function to keep society running” (Conley). In embarking on this approach it shall be seen what can happen to a family who deviates from the functionalist theorists’ ideology of family and its importance in the process of socialization, or so the film portrays. Socialization is “the process by which individuals internalize the values, beliefs, and norms of a given society and learn to function as members of society” and also the “primary unit of socialization for most of us” (Conley).
A functionalist theory approach to addressing the problems of the scenario of the film Mrs. Doubtfire is that the main characters Daniel and Miranda Hillard stray away from one of society’s most important of all social institutions. In the process of doing so it leads the viewer’s subconscious to draw conclusions of who is to blame and the blame is quick to fall at the feet of the wife, but why? The alteration of gender role and thus the deviation from the interpreted functionalist’s theory of gender role is what causes the viewer to do as such. The divorce being the idea of the wife seems to be a pretty simplistic answer as to why Miranda becomes the bad guy in the movie. This makes sense but digging deeper it can also be viewed as diverting from her gender role. Gender roles are very common within movies but not always in plain sight, they are defined as “sets of behavioral norms assumed to
accompany one’s status as a male or female” (Conley).
The wife taking charge by telling the husband she wants a divorce and denying time with his kids is taken very negatively by the viewers of this film. When Miranda leaves she (for the most part) takes the kids with her and by this act she breaks free from the much idealized form of a nuclear family, or household form consisting of a father, mother, and their children, as well as steps away from her gender role (Conley). Analyzing the character of the husband, Daniel Hillard, reveals that in all actuality she had every right to do so. Daniel is not a great role model for their children, the picture is painted that he is consistently in and out of a job and cannot seem to take anything seriously. His strong desire to spend time with his kids seems to be romanticized enough to make up for his lack of a steady job so much so that the viewer looks over this crucial detail. After the divorce Miranda becomes in need of a nanny to which Daniel dresses himself as an elderly woman and applies for the job.
The action of becoming a full time nanny shows how the film supports the idea of the importance of gender roles, but it also shows the complications of sex and gender he faces in changing his role. Sex is defined as biological differences that distinguish men from women, whereas gender is the state of being male or female in reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones (Conley). Note how the briefness of these definitions leaves much to be interpreted. Daniel is regarded highly in his career for his ability to create cartoon characters and portray them through his voice. Using this ability he is able to fool his family into believing this act. Of course Mrs. Doubtfire is a creation of how he would believe a typical nanny to act and appear. Before becoming a nanny he knew nothing of how to cook. This can be further understood by Talcott Parson’s sex role theory which argues that the nuclear family is the ideal arrangement in a modern society with a work-oriented father and domestic-oriented mother (Conley). These roles are complicated as the mother is slightly more work-oriented than what is idealized, however she is still the domestic-oriented mother as explained by sex role theory. Due to this fact Daniel is portrayed as the husband who knows not how to cook. A nanny who cannot is not sensible, as an elderly woman would be even more eloped in the woman’s gender culture.
This is not overlooked by Daniel, as he is forced to become a better cook as a nanny. It is interesting to see how much the lives of the children seem to improve as this gender role is fulfilled. The lives of everyone around Mrs. Doubtfire drastically improve. This is the films portrayal of the importance of sex and gender roles. The comedy of Robin Williams, who portrays Daniel Hillard or Mrs. Doubtfire, covers up many underlying principles of not necessarily modern society but how modern society, consciously or subconsciously, views the norms and arbitrarily felt necessity of nuclear families. This movie dogmatizes the ideas of gender roles and sex but covers this fact through a dense plot and comedy.