Mrs. Doubtfire is not funny.

by Mark Zaugg 26. February 2007 01:00

I've debated with myself for literally the full day whether to write this or not. 

I joke about what it takes to be a blogger.  One must have an inflated ego, a view of his own importance in the world that is either greater or lesser than it actually is, a willingness to impose his view on all our fellow inhabitants. 

In reality, you need a willingness to share your viewpoint of your world at any particular moment.  The barriers should be low.  We need active discourse across the grandness of the spectrum, whether it be trivialities of reality TV or grand moments of dire consequence. 

I love inflammatory headlines.  The tabloids are patently silly, but I stare at the proclamations at the supermarkets just as much as anyone else.  I will happy throw out that Microsoft Vista Eats Babies as a subject line if I could find a way to make it relevant to my world and if I could make it true.  I'm sure you've discovered by now that if you're here for New Yorker commentary, you are very much in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Should you happen to wish to re-publish anything I've written and print it in the New Yorker, I'll happily question your sanity and make suitable arrangements for you.

In this case, the title is not meant to be comical or hyperbolic.  That movie just plain hurts me.

"But how can this be," you ask.  "It's listed as number 39 on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies and number 10 on five's Greatest Ever Comedy Movies. It is also number 67 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Funniest American Movies."  (Source, Wikipedia.)  "My goodness, it stars Robin Williams, perhaps one of the funniest men on the planet." 

It's not the movie itself, nor the acting, nor the humour.  It's the scenario the movie was built around.  Social commentary can easily be wrapped within comedy - actually, I fully expect it to be.  I can't laugh when it strikes so near to the truth and yet missed the mark so poignantly.

Backing up the bus a little..  I don't watch a lot of movies and I pretty much happily avoid TV now.  So one of the best things of being with my Lady-love is that she filters out the crap and we watch movies together.  We don't have exactly the same tastes, no, however she's gotten a good understanding of what interests me.  Hopefully we've established that if one of us isn't enjoying the movie we can walk out and do something else without hurting the other's feelings.  Some things I just can't stomach - if I want to do something more suited to my frame of mind, well, so be it.

This morning, we decided to watch Mrs. Doubtfire.  I had never seen it, and it is known as being a very funny movie.  Perhaps I'm missing the boat, but what I saw was bleak, dismal and quite horrifying.

Here's my personal synopsis of the movie:

Happy-go-lucky husband marries rigid and professional wife.  Initially this works as the people interplay and their personalities balance each other.  As the marriage drags on, both people lose touch with what made the relationship work in the first place.  Rather than balancing one another, their character traits begin to abrade.

Hey, I don't take any issues so far.  People grow in different directions.  Couples forget to talk, fail to communicate, relationships break down and divorces are never polite and casual affairs.

When the husband suggests getting help and counseling, the wife turns it down and says she simply wants a divorce.  My eyebrows go up at this point.  I'm not going to say counseling has to be required for a divorce, but I do expect both spouses to make an effort into making the relationship work.  I'm officially buying into the belief that the relationship portrayed wasn't one worth pursuing.

Right about this point I start getting knocked ass over tea kettle.  They go to court and the mother gets full custody of all three children by default until the father gets a job and an apartment.

I mean, hey, I know this is Hollywood and all, but seriously!  Why is it never even questioned that the man leaves home and possessions behind while the wife tends the kids in the marital home?  That shouldn't happen by default anymore.  It does, but we really need to advance our divorce laws.

As the movie progresses, I get more detached from and further enraged with the scenario.  Some of the situation matches my experience, some of the story matches friends I have - both in real life and online.  I find it utterly outrageous in total.

Here is a man desperate to be with his children.  So desperate, he's willing to dress in drag just in order to spend a few hours a day with them as opposed to having them spend time in child care.

As he learns cooking, laundry and daily housekeeping he is watched over and inspected by a court ordered official.  He is under complete scrutiny and must conform to rules which were not enforced - they did not even exist - while he was married.

In the end, he was forced into supervised visits simply to spend time with his children.  This was only reversed when his ex-wife "fixed it" for him.  And please be serious, Daniel Hillard was presented in a good light instead of presented as the "Deadbeat Dad" image most divorced men are labeled.

That is not funny.  That is a horrible damnation upon our society.  Upon ourselves.  That demonstrates just how badly our divorce system has become maligned.  How petty and underhanded agendas have eroded from within, while special interests have lobbied to solve their particular issue and have foisted every other divorce into the same cookie cutter shape.

Divorce is hell and it won't get any prettier, but we're doing ourselves a huge disfavour with our present system and prejudices.

Reality is that the cookie-cutter approach is not working in a huge number of cases.  I'll go out on a limb and say the majority of divorced people are dissatisfied to extremely dissatisfied with their divorces.  The courts appear to only be interested ordering judgements that make all parties unhappy within a predefined set of parameters.

The fights regarding money are bad enough, but the regular wars that happen regarding custody and access are blood thirsty, unchecked and evilly counter-productive in all my experience.  A bias in the court system remains - it is both presumed and enforced.  A lawyer told me to my face in full earnestness that there was a judge who would rule against me the moment I stood in front of his bench.  I want to blow it off as fear mongering and speculation, but the lawyer worked with him on a weekly basis - I have no reason to distrust her.  How can we even consider our courts to be impartial purveyors of justice if even so much as a perception is allowed to persist?  I pray the judge has retired and never holds my life in his hands.

Yet we are human in a human legal system that is not without flaws or error.  Step one needs to be to keep as many cases out of the legal system as is possible.  Counseling, mediation and other alternative and less-confrontational methods are becoming trusted alternatives to a gavel in the States.  Are us Canadians doing as good of a job keeping up?

I like to apply the, "If you were still married..." rule as Step two.  Is an equal standard held to parents who are divorced as holds to parents which are not divorced?  If we are interested in the wellbeing of our children, as a society we need to be interested in the welfare of all our children, not just those from "broken homes."  A father of a newborn is not by default expected to require constant supervision.  How come, in so many cases I know, fathers recently divorced are subjected to supervised visits only?  There must be no double standards simply because a divorce has occurred.  Forgive me for hoping that the less-invasive standard, not the most-invasive standard, is the one we follow.

Step three, we need to adhere to a constant presumption of equality.  Parents are not equal, they are not clones of each other nor do they share the same qualities.  All people are separate and distinct, but they need not be treated inequitably.  I recommend reading Cathy Young's take - I don't always agree, but she's certainly insightful.

Daniel Hillard was able to cook and clean every bit as well as Euphegenia Doubtfire.  I am unable to fairly compare his meal preparation with Miranda Hillard, but there needs to be an underlying assumption that parents each want what is best for their children and will use the best of their talents to improve the lives of their children.

Hold up there, Zeke.  I ain't stupid.  I'm not going to pretend that everyone is capable, ready or willing to live up to their potential as a parent.  There are parents who are dangerous, incompetent, immature, uncaring, drunk, stoned, etc. to do a good job raising children.

Rather than the confrontational approach that emphasizes each of these in court battles, we must encourage parents to put their best forward for their children.  Cooking a nutritious meal and ensuring homework gets done is a skill so simple an unemployed voice-actor in a movie can learn.  Caring for a child for a lifetime should be innate.  We need fewer artificial restrictions and more resources invested in ensuring a divorce is a bump in the road that everyone recovers from.

Kramer vs. Kramer was a watershed movie that demonstrated both parents could be capable and caring, and that divorce as ugly as it could be, could be more treated more progressively than needed happen going through the court system.  We need another story like it that doesn't pull punches and illuminates, not just shows desperation and a flowery everything's-goona-be-all-right Hollywood ending.  My ghod, I could feel the train moving towards the reunification scene at the end.  Kiboshing that was the one thing the got absolutely right in the movie.

So, I cook, I clean (minimally), I live in an imperfect world in my own imperfect way trying to be perfect for my Lady-love and my children and we'll all get by and hopefully make a good life out of it.  But I will not laugh at a terribly sad, depressing, dismal story.  I can't laugh at a place where I can't tolerate living.  Next time I'll pick a cheery movie like "Full Metal Jacket."

---

Resources to try to keep you off the set of Mrs. Doubtfire:
Divorce Calgary
Separated Parenting Access & Resource Center (SPARC)
Fathers Are Capable Too
Cathy Young - The freelance journalist I cited above
Reena Sommer - A divorce consultant.  Her site's a little "shoppy" for me, but she knows her stuff.

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