Tootsie (1982)

“I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be the object of so much genuine affection.”

Tootsie Poster

Synopsis:
An out-of-work actor (Dustin Hoffman) in need of money to produce a play written by his roommate (Bill Murray) dresses like a woman and is given a role on a daytime soap opera, where he falls in love with a beautiful actress (Jessica Lange) who is dating the show’s director (Dabney Coleman). Meanwhile, Hoffman-in-drag is pursued by both a co-star (George Gaynes) and Lange’s widowed father (Charles Durning), all while trying to maintain a new romantic relationship with his longtime friend (Teri Garr).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this Sydney Pollack-directed film “is the kind of project that could have turned into a disaster”, but instead “works beautifully.” He points out the many parallels between this and Billy Wilder’s comedy classic Some Like it Hot (1959): just as “[Jack] Lemmon and Tony Curtis masquerade as women and consequently free their better female sides from years of repression, Michael [Hoffman] becomes more kind, gentler, more perceptive (toward women mostly, but men also) and less inclined to blame everyone else for his failures”. Interestingly, Hoffman chose not to “base [Dorothy] on famous female characters (although he uses a Blanche Dubois accent), but lets [her] character have a life of its own (influenced by his male knowledge of men and their power games).” Indeed, it’s Michael/Dorothy’s life-altering shift in perspective towards the world that fuels the film, rather than simple curiosity about how long he’ll get away with his charade, and what the consequences will be when he’s inevitably found out.

In his Alternate Oscars, Peary names Hoffman Best Actor of the Year, and describes how Hoffman spent no less than a year experimenting with the characterization, finally stating, “I’m not going to try to do a character; I’m just going to be myself behind this and see what happens”. It’s refreshing that while Michael is certainly flawed, self-absorbed, and deceptive, he’s not “the biggest sexist pig around”, and thus “we see that even the average man must change”. Hoffman’s excellent performance undeniably anchors the film (it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role!), but the supporting cast is all fine as well — most notably Lange (who won a Best Supporting Actress award for her performance) and Durning as her widowed father, who we feel genuine pity for as we watch him falling hard for Dorothy while being taken for an embarrassing ride. Adding welcome levity in the midst of so much narrative tension is the hilarious subplot involving “a lecherous actor” (Gaynes) whose character (unlike Lange and Durning) is so buffoonish we don’t mind seeing him duped.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dustin Hoffman as Michael/Dorothy
    Tootsie Hoffman1
    Tootsie Hoffman2
  • Fine supporting performances across the board
    Tootsie Lange
    Tootsie Pollack
  • An often hilarious screenplay
    Tootsie Baby Watching

Must See?
Yes, as a comedy classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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