Review No. 413
The Bottom Line: It’s Dustin Hoffman’s His Girl Friday–as Rosalind Russell, not Cary Grant.
Directed by: Sydney Pollack
Screenplay by: Barry Levinson and Elaine May & Murray Schisgal and Robert Garland
Story by: Larry Gelbart
Michael Dorsey: Dustin Hoffman
Dorothy Michaels: Dustin Hoffman
Julie Nichols: Jessica Lange
Sandy Lester: Teri Garr
Leslie “Les” Nichols: Charles Durning
Also Starring: Bill Murray, Dabney Coleman, Doris Belack, Estelle Getty, Geena Davis, George Gaynes, Lynne Thigpen, Sydney Pollack
Distributed by Columbia Pictures on December 17, 1982. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 116 mins. Rated PG by the MPAA (mature themes; langauge).
Tootsie was watched on February 8, 2013.
“I don’t believe in hell. I believe in unemployment, but not hell.” –Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman)
Terms of endearment can very often be incredibly ridiculous. What woman wants to be compared to baked goods or food? “Sugar”, “honey”, and “cupcake” all sound pretty fattening to me, so if I were a woman, I’d feel pretty insulted. If you want a stronger example, let’s look at France, where women are compared to insects. Insects, of all the possible beauties in nature. “Je t’aime, petite puce.” That’s “I love you, you little louse.” No wonder infidelity is so widely accepted in France.
I’m sure Dustin Hoffman would concur. It’s quite possible he isn’t a feminist today, but back in 1982 it’s hard to doubt. The man is a brilliant actor, so much that he’s always playing himself–or seemingly so–no matter the personality. 1982’s Tootsie explored feminism, and Hoffman nailed it every step of the way.
Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is a man who seems to think the world of himself. In fact, it isn’t until a TV host takes over his part in a Broadway production of The Iceman Cometh, that he actually realizes how much everyone in New York City hates him. After being fired, Michael finds that not only is he never to be hired again, but his chances have gone from 0% to at least 50% lower. More women are being hired than men.
Michael then embraces the most prestigious acting challenge in order to earn back his acting career. He cross dresses as a snarky woman named “Dorothy Michaels.” He’s not dressing as a woman, so much that he’s living the life of a completely different person. Think along the lines of a more heartfelt, more absurdly involving Desperately Seeking Susan, not a mundane drag comedy. Through living this way, Michael learns that the men are hiring women to simply sit in the studio and ogle them through the glass. And as he realized he was the subject of it all, “Ms. Michaels”‘ small heart grew three sizes those days.
Tootsie isn’t an utterly unpredictable comedy. The film follows along a formula we’re quite acquainted with, and, to a lesser extent, we already feel we know how it’s going to end. There are several novel twists, though, which make this a thrill to watch. Dustin Hoffman is perfect as “Ms. Michaels.” That he is an understated method actor, portraying a well hated method actor-turned-actress, is itself amusing. “Ms. Michaels” can’t stand the stereotype in which women just have to subservient to men (you can kill me if I’m ever in a world that accepts such nonsense), so she ad libs everything in the soap opera for which she is cast. The TelePrompTer tells her to leave a woman for therapy. Mind you, this woman has been beaten nearly to a pulp by her husband, so “Ms. Michaels” makes a few changes.
Tootsie is quite a joy to watch. It’s almost Dustin Hoffman playing himself (have I said that already?), in fact; you begin to forget Bill Murray, another enormously talented method actor, is even there. What’s better, the funniest scenes are left for the end. Ergo it’s nearly impossible to be disappointed by this work of a genius. It’s not the greatest screwball comedy ever made, and that’s for sure, but it’s a highly original, often dynamic treat.