I'm not great at dealing with human beings and their feelings. Sometimes a person does that thing with their face where it changes into a shape that is altogether unpleasant and there's no way I can make the face go back to normal, even with money and snacks. Close friends are kind enough to realize that they'd have a better shot at receiving empathy if they talked their problems out with friends that aren't me, or helpful-looking strangers, or a dog of above-average intelligence. I'm great for remembering where people parked and untangling difficult knots, but absolute dogshit at helping you deal with emotional issues.
This problem (which I am in no way working to fix) probably stems from the fact that all of my empathy is reserved for the fictional characters on my television and movie screen. My heart breaks not just for the obvious candidates -- your Eponines, your Bambis, your Misters T, and so on -- but for every sad character, even and especially the minor ones that I feel like no one else is paying attention to.
3 Unnamed Lonely Bus Driver (Mrs. Doubtfire)
20th Century Fox
In Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams has to dress up as a sweet Irish lady and pose as a nanny in a misguided attempt to be closer to his children. He does a bunch of voices, there are some shenanigans, there's obviously a scene where he has to balance dinner with his family as his widowed alter ego Mrs. Doubtfire and a dinner with his boss as himself at the same time in the same restaurant. It is, in general, one of the most '90s movies ever made. When annoyingly young people ask me what the '90s were like, I show them Mrs. Doubtfire, Space Jam, Independence Day, and The Rock.
In between shenanigans and montages set to Aerosmith songs, we meet a sweet old bus driver played by the late Sydney Walker.
20th Century Fox
Williams as Doubtfire has to take a late bus home from work most nights, and this bus driver is usually the only other person on the bus. When he sees her, he smiles and sweetly flirts with her. It's cute. And the audience watching along is supposed to laugh because, hehehe, the bus driver doesn't realize he's flirting with a guy!
There was no reason for the movie to follow up with this guy because the character only exists as a joke. (In the less sensitive and politically correct '90s, "Man likes other man but doesn't know it!" was an incredibly popular punchline.) I don't know what went wrong in my brain to make me this way, but I think about that guy all the time. To begin with, he's a lonely old man who works the late shift for a bus that is almost always empty. He's obviously single, which means his wife either died or left him, or he still hasn't managed to find someone yet. Then he meets a woman who seems sweet and seems his age and isn't rebuffing his advances, so he probably suspects she's single. Available women his age are probably hard to come by, and now he's found a pretty one that actually seems to like him; he must feel pretty lucky.
20th Century Fox
This was his Basic Instinct.
He also seems like just the sweetest man. When he sees Mrs. Doubtfire's bare legs covered in the thick and wild fur that is Robin Williams' natural pelt, he doesn't balk or abandon his flirtation like some other, more shallow men might. He accepts Mrs. Doubtfire, bear-like legs and all, as "Natural. Healthy. Just the way God made you."
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
I think about this man and the way he looks and smiles at Mrs. Doubtfire, and I can't help but think that seeing this woman and briefly getting the opportunity to flirt with her is the highlight of his day. Maybe tonight'll be the night I ask her out. Nothing big, just a cup of coffee or something, I imagine him saying to himself at his house, alone, because I'm the kind of person who thinks like that, because I'm a lunatic.
Or maybe he'll never ask her out because he doesn't need to. I say this as a guy who has been nervous, awkward, and lonely in his life: Sometimes seeing the courage you muster to flirt with a stranger rewarded with the smile of a pretty girl is enough to carry you through anything. Maybe the few minutes every night that he gets to spend admiring the beautiful stranger is keeping this sweet old (fictional, remember that he's fictional, Daniel) man going. A nightly flirting routine that reminds him of his younger days, when he had the time and opportunity to flirt with beautiful women. Every night he gets to time travel to the swagger of his youth.
20th Century Fox
"You're my tropical island in an ocean of bus-hobo pee."
Mrs. Doubtfire gets her own TV show by the end of the movie. That means the bus driver is going to see it, check the credits, find out that it's Robin Williams in a wig, and just crash. I'm not saying this is a Crying Game situation, where he'll freak out because he's horrified for being attracted to a man; I'm saying he'll be crushed when he finds out that the harmless, nightly flirting ritual with the attractive stranger was just a bunch of bullshit. It was probably hard enough on the bus driver when Mrs. Doubtfire suddenly stopped showing up on his bus route -- now he has to find out she doesn't even exist?
Back to the lonely bus route. The only thing he has.
2 Jerry (Liar Liar)
In Liar Liar, another contender for "Most '90s Movie Ever," Jim Carrey, a lawyer named Fletcher, gets hit with some magic and has to go a full 24 hours without saying a single lie, all while facing a big case and trying to reconnect with his son and ex-wife. He generally lies all the time, you see, which is why this would be a big deal for him. His ex-wife (Maura Tierney) dates Jerry (Cary Elwes), because she wants her son to have a positive male role model in his life, someone who won't constantly lie and let him down. She plans on moving to Boston with Jerry and her son, but after a series of wacky hijinks, Fletcher learns the error of his ways and vows to be a better father to his son, a better lawyer, and a better man. By the end of the film, it is heavily implied that Fletcher and his ex-wife will get back together and everyone will live happily ever after.
This isn't exactly a new formula. In movies about a slacker or deadbeat male who needs to turn his life around to win back the woman he loves, there's almost always another man in the picture. Someone with whom our hero has to compete. In almost all of those movies, however, the "other man" is usually revealed to be shitty in some way. Bradley Cooper cheats on his fiancee Rachel McAdams in Wedding Crashers. Billy Zane (Kate Winslet's fiance) tries to get Leonardo DiCaprio killed and steals a child in Titanic, and so on. The logic is that good people should be with other good people, and attempting to disrupt someone else's relationship for your own selfish purposes is a bad thing, so we just have to make sure the other man is worse.
It's a pretty tired cliche at this point, but it's also important. That cliche -- highlighting some big, shitty character flaw in the other man -- is what makes us as the audience OK with seeing that other man end up alone and the only thing that makes cuckoldry acceptable to us. You want to make sure the audience roots for Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to end up together? Include a scene of her current boyfriend kidnapping a child and we'll do it. Happily, and with no thought about the consequences.
Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
Cameron was going to CG yellow eyes and devil horns, but they were already over budget.
Liar Liar has no such shitty guy scene for Jerry. He doesn't cheat on Maura Tierney's character, he doesn't beat the little kid, and he's not a drug addict or murderer. He's introduced to us as a very kind guy who is ready, willing, and eager to step in and be a supportive father figure for a kid that isn't his, and that's how he stays throughout the whole movie. He's handsome, likeable, capable of holding down a job, and confident in himself enough to not be threatened by Fletcher. His biggest flaw is that he's a little square and can't do this claw thing as well as Jim Carrey. In every other movie, he should get a good girl. (Yes, I'm using words like "get" and "reward" and we're treating the woman like a sex prize. Movies are problematic, I'm very sorry.)
"Oh, no. When they call me a nice guy, they mean that legitimately."
Jerry doesn't win in Liar Liar; he loses. The woman he loves and the child he's prepared to raise -- his future family, basically -- are taken away from him by a bruised, rambling Fletcher, a known liar who has demonstrated his unreliability as a parent a thousand times. The day Maura Tierney decides to stick with Fletcher is the same day Fletcher: 1) gets his car impounded for speeding and a number of unpaid parking tickets; 2) gets thrown in jail; 3) breaks through security in an airport; and 4) steals an airport vehicle, delaying a flight and endangering lives. Cary Elwes lost to that guy. And what's his sin? Nothing. The moral of the movie seems to be that if you grow and change and quit being a terrible human, you get the sex prize.
A "nice guy."
But what about the guy who was already good? The guy who never took the easy way out and believed in doing the right thing because it was the right thing? What lesson is he supposed to pull out of this? "Oh, you love Fletcher again because he doesn't lie? Guess who was already not lying to you this whole time?!" What kind of justice is there for the guy who didn't need a magic spell to know that lying is wrong? Where's his sex prize?!
My hope is that some perfect woman happened to be on the same plane, saw what happened to Cary Elwes, and fell in love with him, and they lived happily ever after, but I'm sure there's probably a deleted scene from Liar Liar where Cary Elwes' plane goes down, because fuck good guys, right?