Tootsie (1982) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG for language and sexual humor (probably PG-13 today)
Running Time: 119 min.
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, Sydney Pollack, George Gaynes, Geena Davis
Director: Sydney Pollack
Screenplay: Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal
Review published September 18, 2005
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, only winning one for Jessica Lange's (The Postman Always Rings Twice, King Kong) nice supporting performance, Tootsie is a case of a romantic comedy where everything clicks just right. A fantastic script full of quality character touches meets a cast that excels at bringing their personalities to their performances. The chemistry is evident throughout, which pays off big during the later stages of the movie where love and serious emotions take over. This could have easily been an exploitative film about a man in drag, but it's anything but. The makers of this film wisely know that seeing a man dress up like a woman hasn't been funny since the early days of television, but they do have lots of fun in the irony of it, with quotable quips that makes this a rare film that engages the mind as well as pulling the heartstrings.
Dustin Hoffman (Agatha, All the President's Men) stars as Michael Dorsey, a down-and-out New York actor that can't find a job, mostly due to his reputation for being difficult to work with. Fed up with being unemployed, Michael employs some desperate measures whereby he dons a wig, make-up and dress in order to try to land a meaty role on a popular soap opera meant for a woman. Sure enough, he gets the gig, and his uncouth adlibs make his new persona, Dorothy Michaels, a national sensation. Fame finally comes his way, but with a price, as he finds working with a woman he comes to love, a fellow actress named Julie (Lange), hard to bear, as he has feelings for her he dare not express as a woman. Meanwhile, the men are after her, and Michael is having a hard time trying to fend them off forever.
Hoffman pulls off a tour-de-force dual performance here, imbuing Dorothy with a personality almost completely separate from the one we know from Dustin. Equally fine are the supporting cast, each of them playing off of Hoffman with just the right amount of seriousness the scene necessitates, and just the right amount of humor as well. The dialogue sparkles even though many of the best lines are ad-libbed, while the direction by Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor, The Firm), who also plays the role of the frustrated agent in the film, keeps the movie fresh and honest enough to cover over the necessary contrivances that hold the movie together.
Most of today's romantic comedies don't even bother trying to be original, which is probably why a wholly unique film like Tootsie holds up so well today. Refreshingly different and full of wonderful moments, Tootsie is recommended for those that haven't seen it, but especially for those that have. A comedy this nuanced holds more surprises with repeat viewings than most modern rom-coms ever do the first time through.
©2005 Vince Leo