Movie Name: Tootsie
Studio: Mirage Enterprises
Release Date(s): December 17, 1982
MPAA Rating: PG
Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is an actor down on his luck. No one will hire him and he is trying to raise the money to produce his roommate Jeff Slater (Bill Murray) play Return to Love Canal. When his acting student Sandy (Teri Garr) is passed up for a role on the popular daytime drama Southwest General, Michael sees an opportunity, and Dorothy Michaels is born. Dorothy is powerful, independent, and has a lot to say about being a woman…and when Michael falls in love with his costar Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange) as Dorothy, he finds that his complex life is going to get even more complex.
Directed by Sydney Pollack, Tootsie is a comedy classic. The movie was a financial and box office success and the film won Best Supporting Actress (Lange) with nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Teri Garr), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song (“It Might Be You”), Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. The movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1998.
Tootsie is one of my favorite comedies. I can recall watching over and over again as a kid and unlike a lot of comedies that you like as a kid, I still think the script has a ton of depth and laughs. The movie isn’t simply a man-dresses-like-a-woman movie, but an interesting study of the relationships between men and women.
I honestly hate movies where people dress as the opposite gender for ______ reason and then struggle to find ways out of it. I think it is a rather cliché plot devise that is often used in the basest of comedies. Tootsie however circumvents this by having a clever layered script that not only plays with the multiple relationships that Michael is trying juggle, but also the role of women (especially in the ’80s).
Dorothy becomes a role model to women but is only a role model because she was really a man. The society that Michael is in misuses, mistreats, and under appreciates the abilities of women. Michael gets though this and gets a different view of his own behavior and how he treats women (leading to the great line “I was a better man with you, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man…you know what I mean?”).
Hoffman makes Tootsie work by being a really convincing Dorothy that you do like. He’s backed up by a terrific supporting cast with Bill Murray and Teri Garr as his “home family” and Dabney Coleman, George Gaynes, and Geena Davis as part of his work family. Both Charles Durning and Jessica Lange are great as the father and daughter that are both attracted to Dorothy for different reasons and needs. Director Sydney Pollack also has a role as Michael’s frustrated agent George Fields.
Dorothy also looks exactly how Dorothy needs to look. She isn’t the most attractive woman, but she also is allowed to be somewhat feminine. It also has to be realistic. Unlike something like Mrs. Doubtfire which required huge amounts of make-up, Michael needs to be able to change into Dorothy relatively quickly if necessary…and the movie number one song “It Might Be You” moves the story alone nicely.
Tootsie remains a fun movie, and I hope that Hollywood never decides to touch it. If it was remade today, it would have a lot of slapstick and not enough heart. There are new issues for women and the LBGT community that a script could explore, but keeping Tootsie as Tootsie from 1982 is the best option and continue to work to make NEW tight, strong scripts like this.