Tootsie (1982) (PG)
There's always been something comedic with men dressing up as women that cannot be said of the reverse. The amount of times in cinema and stage when a man puts on a dress for laughs cannot be met with a woman wearing a tuxedo...the situations aren't as humorously compatible. That's kind of besides the point, but it does generate the topic of gender that "Tootsie" plays with so forcefully.
It's no great secret that Dustin Hoffman assumes a female alter-ego in a middle aged southern lady who doesn't sweet talk from misogynistic men.
Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is an actor who's incredibly hard to work with. He is so invested in his craft that sometimes he can be a bit, how shall we say it, "impolite". For Michael, who always introduces himself as a character actor, it is all about the art of convincing, it's all about the sheer dedication.
Sandy (Teri Garr) is one of Michael's friends and she is an actress on the verge of an emotional breakdown. The film treats it for laughs, but there is a vein of thought concerning the unemployed actors...she is one of them. On one audition for a soap opera, she gets rejected and in trying to comfort her Michael learns that a part that was promised to him by his agent has been given to some other guy.
Dashing off to confront his agent, Michael is faced with the truth one more time: no one is willing to work with him, no one wants him.
So in a rapid cut, we see Dorothy Michaels (Hoffman again) walking down the street to audition for a small part in a soap opera—that's right, the same one that Sandy tried out for. Ron (Dabney Coleman) is the director of the show and he thinks he has the right to sleep with all the women, because they are obviously irresistibly drawn to him. Although his female co-workers let his chauvinistic quirks be, Dorothy is not so caring to let them slip by and here the film reinvents itself.
As a woman, Michael/Dorothy is discovering how difficult the world can be to women; but as a man underneath, he also is willing to take chances to better suit himself, his character, and Dorothy. He will stand up for himself, he will fight for his rights (most of this time, this has to do with the show and his character on the show; but still...)
Michael's time as Dorothy brings him in contact with Julie (Jessica Lange), a sweet blonde girl who plays a nurse on the show. She's currently involved with Ron and Michael's anger can barely be contained and the injustice of the situation. Well...maybe that's exaggerating; but he's certainly not happy about it.
From here on out the comedy sets in with how Michael navigates the two worlds he's constructed: man and woman. The film gives him insight into womanhood; but I find it awkward and kind of insulting that his insight triggers the changes that all the other women were just going to let slip by. The insinuations are therefore that he can bring change because he's actually a man and proactive or women are content to wallow in misery. Perhaps that's reading too much into the movie...oh well.
Director Sydney Pollack does a terrific job summarizing that experiences into the funniest and most charming moments as well as making sure that the film never loses its heart.
"Tootsie" is a fun, light-hearted, and ultimately perhaps too fluffy piece; but its emotional core is solid and it is nuanced. It's the kind of comedy whose humor will never go out of style, even if its politics does.
Posted by Micah Jones