Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tootsie 1982

'Tootsie' still has lots to say about sexism!

I just re-watched 1982’s Tootsie, not having seen it in some time. In the current era of the #metoo movement, some of the issues between the film’s male and female characters are especially relevant. Most importantly, Tootsie is still funny and fresh, over 35 years later.
The original poster for 'Tootsie' sums it all up...

Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor well-known for being difficult. With no prospects, Michael auditions for a soap opera …as a woman. Surprisingly, he lands the role. Unsurprisingly, as Dorothy Michaels, he’s just as opinionated, rubbing the powers that be the wrong way. The biggest surprise of all is, playing an actress playing a hospital bigwig, Michael is a hit! And that’s just the beginning of this classic comedy with brains—and heart.
Michael becoming Dorothy Michaels...

I always assumed that Dustin won the Oscar for Tootsie. Not so, Ben Kingsley did, as Gandhi. Let’s just say that Tootsie’s Dorothy isn’t as big on passive resistance! Dustin Hoffman's take on a strong woman is wonderful. There are times when watching Tootsie that I forgot I was watching a man playing a woman. I just loved Dorothy and missed her when she wasn’t onscreen. Michael’s character was patterned after Dustin himself, though in recent years, Hoffman claims he never considered himself difficult. Oh, really? Have you ever heard of an actor who admitted that they were? Even Bette Davis made repeated pronouncements that she was not difficult to work with!
Jessica Lange as Julie and Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels, looking astonished at their soap plotlines!

Hoffman’s presence in this film is especially noteworthy because he too has been accused of sexually inappropriate behavior by the #metoo movement. Aside from clashing with directors and writers, Dustin’s been known to go a few rounds with co-stars—even Lord Olivier. With women, he at times has come across as sexist, as Meryl Streep recalled recently. This all clashes with his proclaiming to have seen the light regarding male chauvinism during Tootsie’s making. Yet Hoffman is hardly the first person on the planet to talk the talk, but not walk the walk, high heels or no.
That said, Hoffman gives a helluva performance as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels. As the 40-ish actor, Dustin’s energetic and funny, but also increasingly serious and sensitive to his alter ego. And as Dorothy, running roughshod over the clich├ęd soap scripts and sexist director, watching Hoffman’s creation come to life is a delight. The fact that everyone loves this unlikely soap star has you rooting for Dorothy to kick some more ass!
Jessica Lange in her Marilyn Monroe-like role as an unlucky in love soap star.

Jessica Lange, who plays it straight to the antics around her, gives a sweet, Marilyn Monroe-esque performance as the soap actress, Julie. I haven’t watched Tootsie in years, and seeing the softer side of Lange was a pleasant surprise from her latter day neurotics. Jessica as Julie is fascinating to watch, as her character grows from her friendship with firebrand Dorothy. Lange is a Billy Wilder/Marilyn Monroe fan, and her sweetly sad, soft-spoken, slightly tipsy character seems like a nod to Marilyn’s most famous role, as Sugar Kane in Wilder’s cross-dressing classic, Some Like It Hot.
Terri Garr as Sandy, the actress who is unlucky, period!

Terri Garr, in another era, would have been a classic supporting comic actress. As Sandy, the hapless struggling actress, Garr is a delight as the girl who is utterly confused by Tootsie’s proceedings. Frustrated by that “that cow” Dorothy Michaels, who got her role, to crossing the line with best friend Michael Dorsey, then feeling double crossed, Terri is hilariously hysterical, but also comes off as human, and not a cartoon. Garr’s career ran the gamut, from dancing in background of Elvis musicals, to guest shots on Star Trek, as a regular on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, to her breakthrough in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and in Tootsie, she hit her peak.
Dabney Coleman as Ron, the sexist director, explaining why HE'S the injured party regarding his playing around.

And who plays a sexist jerk better than Dabney Coleman? The character actor became synonymous with male chauvinist pig as the boss in 9 to 5. Coleman’s philandering, paternalistic director does a slow burn as he clashes with Hoffman’s Dorothy. Watching Coleman’s Ron in action gives Michael’s character something to ponder, regarding his own shortcomings as a man.
Charles Durning as Jessica's romantic dad, who has designs on Hoffman's Dorothy!

Like the rest of the cast, Charles Durning comes off as effortlessly real as Julie’s widower dad, Les. Durning is so likeable as the old-school guy with a romantic heart that I somehow wanted it all to work out between him and ‘Dorothy.’ Some of the best scenes are when Julie and Dorothy spend the holidays with Les. They’re lovely and generate genuine laughs from a crazy scenario: Les falls in love with Dorothy, Michael disguised as Dorothy, is in love with Julie. And Julie just wants her dad to be happy!
Bill Murray as Dustin's roommate, Jeff, has some of the best one-liners in 'Tootsie.'

I actually forgot that Bill Murray, not billed in the opening credits, was in Tootsie—and he’s such a great commentator on the action. Murray doesn’t resort to mugging, but relies on his best asset—his deadpan mug and dry humor—the perfect reaction to Tootsie’s antics.
Doris Belack is bitingly funny and real as Rita, the no-nonsense producer who gives Dorothy her big break. And George Gaynes is a hoot as John Van Horn, the ham soap star who fears improvising and going live equally. 
There’s also Geena Davis, in her first film role, as a starlet. Her moments are eye-catching, especially where she’s in her underwear, distracting Michael, as Dorothy. And look close for Golden Girls’ Estelle Getty as a fan of Dorothy’s, while she’s out dancing with Les.
Dustin as Dorothy: Who wore it better?
Jane does dowdy in '9 to 5.'

George Masters, makeup and hair guru, was famous for giving Marilyn Monroe her final 'white' look, is responsible for Dorothy Michael's look. Watching Tootsie this time, I realized that Dustin’s Dorothy and Jane Fonda’s 9 to 5’s frumpy secretary had the same look going!
Director Sydney Pollack as Dustin Hoffman's frazzled agent, was a natural comic actor.

In the documentary on Tootsie, Sydney Pollack claimed he didn’t want to do it, citing that he was a dramatic director, not a comedy director. True, but perhaps he should have directed more comedies, as this is easily his best film. Sydney Pollack's major strength as a director was that he was great with actors. Dramatically, he was a solid, but not inspired studio director. Hoffman freely admits that he badgered Pollack, a one-time actor, into playing his agent, mirroring their off-screen bickering. And Sydney’s hilarious!
From all that’s been written about the making of Tootsie, this film took a long time to evolve to the seamless and smart comedy that was a commercial and critical hit.
Both Murray Schisgal and Larry Gelbart got screenwriting credits, though Elaine May was called in to give it a rewrite for her smart outlook, humor, and a woman’s point of view. Hoffman clashed with Gelbart, who later commented, “Tootsie is my vision, despite Dustin Hoffman's lifelong mission to deprive anybody of any credit connected with that movie, except for his close friend, the writer and producer Murray Schisgal.”
Dustin's Michael Dorsey tells Jessica's Julie why he's a better man for having been a woman.

It is noteworthy that of the two, Larry Gelbart got an original story credit, and his writing career was far more stellar than Schigal’s. Gelbart also stated, “I do know that the central theme for Tootsie came from me…that Dustin's character, Michael Dorsey, would become a better man for having been a woman. That was the cornerstone of the film.”
Regardless of who wrote what, Tootsie is still one smart cookie of a comedy. Its look at how men view women, women in the workplace, women as friends—this was all still edgy for 1982.
The only thing that dates this movie is the sappy though catchy Stephen Bishop tune during that era’s inevitable montage scene. But I can handle that, as it shows everyone adoring Dorothy Michaels, as do I.
Who doesn't adore Dorothy in 'Tootsie?'


  1. This is why I rarely read so called reviews.
    For one, you don't tell the whole story. A reviewer is supposed to stick to what worked, didn't work,and why,what they liked/disliked and why, in professional detail . Professional detail meaning if reviewing you should know about filmmaking.
    Throwing in you PC /TMZ gossip type politics of metoo,and hearsay rumors of Hoffman, is un professional.
    But the main reason, I rarely read these kind of reviews, is people who know nothing about the industry, about the actor's process.
    You throw out more gossip of Olivier, Streep,etc.,that mainly should have nothing to do with the film.
    I've worked in the industry. There are lots of rumors of certain actors being hard to work with. The minority are primadonna's. But the majority who are deemed difficult, as Hoffman was, and Pacino.DeNiro, Brando,etc. is because they had a craft, and wanted more from the films they worked on, hence why many were constantly nominated. They all expected and demanded higher standards. Usually the ones that whined certain actors were difficult were the producers, cuz it became more money, without looking at the fact that the films made more money because it was the actors who were demanding.
    Watch the doc on the making of Tootsie. That didn't turn out by accident. Hoffman demanded more, of himself,the director, everyone involved.
    Watch the behind the scenes with Hoffman on death of a salesman. It's the same. It's the same with Pacino,and all the greats.
    So know what you're talking about before writing

  2. I whole heartedly agree with every single point you made here! Even though AFI listed it as the second best comedy of all time, I feel like Tootsie is sorely underrated and not talked about enough. I've seen this movie about 30 times (because when I latch onto a movie, I latch on HARD) and it never loses any of its freshness or laughs. Dorothy Michaels is such a great creation and worth all the awards, she is one of my favorite characters and performances of all time. Hoffman really tapped into something spectacular there.

    1. Sandra, while Tootsie is very funny, I like it just as much for its serious side. And while I haven't seen this movie as many times as you have, I plan on re-watching it more often! Thanks, Rick

  3. I am reeling from the comparison between "Tootsie's" Dorothy Michaels and "9 to 5's" Judy Bernly! Hilarious!!! Judy came first! I'd have sworn it was the other way around.

    By the way, never let anyone's warped, illiterate rantings stop you from expressing your viewpoint on your OWN blog. God knows there are multiple thousands of blogs out there for people to visit to where they don't have to come to one and complain about not liking the tone or the content.... :::crickets::: What you do is not a "review" but more of an overview or tribute. I love reading background information on past movies to help put them into context and shed light on their making. Not only was (is) Hoffman reputed to be difficult, but he was reputed to be not only difficult, but downright nasty, on THIS film! People can be passionate about their work without being damaging to their costars. Sometimes self-indulgence wins the day, unfortunately, even from web-surfers who've "worked in the industry."

    1. Thanks, Poseidon.
      I've learned it's easier to just ignore rude people who make assumptions about who you are or what your expertise is. If I read something I don't like, I usually just move on. I don't feel the need to insult a total stranger.
      And yeah, I didn't know that only "industry professionals" were allowed to express their opinions about movies...

      Cheers, Rick

  4. I recently re-watched this movie as well and forgot how damn funny it is. It is a thoroughly enjoyable film from beginning to end, without being heavy handed with its subtext. And I never picked up on the similarity between Dorothy Michaels and Fonda's character in 9 to 5! Enjoyed reading your synopsis (and it doesn't hurt that I agreed with everything you wrote.) :-) Thanks

    1. Hi Dean, You're welcome! It's always great to revisit an old favorite and see that it still holds up. The big surprise for me was seeing Bill Murray...I forgot he was in this...and he isn't listed in the opening credits!

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  6. Whoops! Second try...
    Hi Rick
    You write beautifully. Your pieces are lively, informative, personal, and funny. Anyone can recount the plot of a film, and there are no shortage of sites that do just that while telling you what you are supposed to think about it. I for one don’t want someone to tell me what I saw, I want to hear about what they felt. You do a great job of that. Also, before unloading on you in a self-serving way, it might behoove a person to learn the difference between a film review and "film criticism." Late to the party, but I wanted to say I enjoyed your post very much, as "Tootsie" as always been a favorite.
    I remember well all the trade magazine reports of on the set headaches reported during the film's lengthy production. Prior to the film's release so many insiders took all the difficulties and setbacks as signs that "Tootsie" was going to arrive DOA at the boxoffice. What a surprise that it came out feeling so light and almost effortlessly witty, on of the best comedies of the '80s.
    One of the best things about your piece is the way you bring up the way the film intersects in provocative ways with Hoffman's current circumstances (reckoning?). It's the most relevant aspect to address and it informs what transpires in the film in thought provoking ways. Excellent job!

    1. Thanks, Ken!
      You remember how long it took me to decide to write a blog : ) I thought, what can I say that hasn't already been said. My thought was just to take a personal approach and not act like my POV was the definitive last word. I also enjoy research and clarifying rumors and making connections. I can't even imagine going on someone's blog or FB page and writing something deliberately awful...the era we live in!

      And while I didn't want to make the take on Tootsie all about Hoffman's behavior, I would have been remiss not to refer to both his temperament and attitude toward women.

      Thanks, again!

  7. It was the choice to remain anonymous that really stuck in my craw, as my Gran used to all means, have an opinion but at least, own up to it....none of us are Andrew Sarris or Pauline Kael, most of us aren't even Judith Crist....but the point here isn't being Roger Ebert, it's that personal view you spoke of.... that's what counts....keep up the good work're helping my flagging memory to recall films I've haven't seen,or thought about, in years!

    1. Thanks, I don't technically review films that have already been reviewed to death... I just right about what strikes me as topical in today's world, or to me.
      Cheers, Rick