|'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 clichéd 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?'