Retro Review : “Tootsie”

TOOTSIE POSTER

I was 11 years-old in 1982. During that year the main movie conversation revolved around Steven Spielberg’s intensely popular “E.T.”. A bit surprising, the second biggest movie of 1982 was “Tootsie”. Now this was prior to the advent of the PG-13 rating so my parents took me with them to see “Tootsie”. I don’t remember a single thought or impression left in my young mind, but after watching it several years later and again just recently, it is a lot easier to appreciate what “Tootsie” is going for.

I mentioned its huge box office office appeal, but “Tootsie” was generally praised by critics as well. It would go on to be nominated for a whopping 10 Academy Awards (interestingly, it would only win one – Jessica Lange, Supporting Actress). That’s a pretty big success especially for a film that went through a number of delays, director changes, and recastings.

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Dustin Hoffman is the face we most associate with “Tootsie” and rightfully so, but one of the most important creative geniuses behind the film’s success was Sydney Pollack. He directed, co-produced, and gave a superb supporting performance. The script was finalized by a collective effort which featured Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, and uncredited assistance from Hoffman favorite Barry Levinson and comedy great Elaine May.

But when talking about “Tootsie” you inescapably come back to Hoffman and his absurd but deeply committed two-sided performance. He plays Michael Dorsey, a talented but insufferable actor who has burned every bridge in the New York and Hollywood acting community. No one will hire him which stresses his relationship with his agent George Fields (Pollack). After months of no work and to prove his agent wrong, Michael auditions for a part in the daytime soap opera “Southwest General”. Here’s the catch – the part is for a woman.

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Michael dresses up and creates the persona of Dorothy Michaels in hopes of winning the part and earning $8,000 to help finance the play of his best friend (Bill Murray). Dorothy not only wins the part but she becomes a soap opera sensation. Dabney Coleman is so good as the smug, sexist director who Dorothy constantly butts heads with. Lange plays a co-star who Michael quickly falls for, but she only knows him as Dorothy which makes for some obvious complications.

Dorothy’s popularity makes it impossible for Michael to cleanly end his charade. But at the same time Dorothy brings about some needed self-reflection. This is the heart of the story, but “Tootsie” is still a comedy. Along the the way we get all sorts of comical, pinpoint jabs at sexism particularly in show business. There is also some hilarious satire aimed at popular Soaps particularly “General Hospital”. It also gives us quirky but revealing observations on relationships. “Tootsie” is a funny movie, but its sense of humor is anchored in its surprising intelligence.

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Hoffman is key. He gives 100% commitment despite the absurdity and without it the entire film would fall. He never winks at the camera. He never mugs. But the supporting cast is just as good. I mentioned Lange, Pollack, Coleman, and Murray. All are perfect fits. But I also loved George Gaynes as an air-headed veteran actor and Teri Garr is a lot of fun playing the manic and fragile Sandy. We also get good work from Charles Durning and Geena Davis in her motion picture debut.

“Tootsie” has held up surprisingly well in the 34 years since it was released. It was a tricky thing to pull off. It could have easily misfired and resulted in just another wacky comedy. But there are brains behind the film which allow it to be funny and provocative in its observations on gender roles and women’s equality. “Tootsie” manages it all very well without being too silly or too heavy-handed.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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18 thoughts on “Retro Review : “Tootsie”

  1. This is a film I could re-watch over and over again where I never get tired of it as well as find something new. I love some of those little moments in the film including some of the stuff the late George Gaynes did where he’s always looking into the monitor for lines but Hoffman would always have him face-to-face and it gave the Gaynes character some confidence. Plus, Dorothy was very helpful in making him look good and provide that confidence. I also loved the moment where they had to re-do an entire scene live as he’s just a nervous wreck and said “just because the tape got a little sticky”.
    There’s so much about that I love and I think it’s my favorite performance from Dustin Hoffman. He can be a schmuck and then also be sensitive. I also loved that story he told where he meet Jose Ferrer while in drag as he told Ferrer that he wanted to $@&% his %#&$. Ferrer was like “oh dear”. Hoffman would meet him again as himself and told him he was that lady and said “I got you”.

    • I was amazed at how much more I took from this most recent viewing. And you are sooo right. Every George Gaynes scene hits the perfect note. He is so freaking good.

  2. It is a good thing you got a great American like Sarah Palin’s picture on here. She is a naturally pretty woman. Not like that Caitlyn Jenner. I ain’t got it figured out yet, but something seems a little off about her.

  3. I just realized we’re the same age. Still, I’ve never given Tootsie a proper viewing, only catching a few minutes here and there on TV over the years. Thanks for reminding me I need to actually watch this movie.

    • Sure thing. I just faintly remember seeing it in the theater with my mom and dad. It left no impression. Much different though now. It really is more than what it appears to be on the surface. Give it a shot. I would love to hear what you think about it. It won’t go down as one of my all-time favorites, but I really do appreciate it.

  4. Nice review Keith. I’ve always really liked Tootsie and would definitely agree it has a top-notch cast. A solid comedy for sure and one of my favorite Dustin Hoffman movies.

  5. Nice review! Tootsie is one of my family’s favorite movies. It’s amazing that it’s held up for so long. Something about it being remade today doesn’t give me the confidence it’d’ have the same comedic intelligence.

    • I think it has held up so well mainly because it was so ahead of its time. It’s amazing how it addressed things that very few films ever dared to touch.

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