Michael Dorsey is an unemployed actor with an impossible reputation. In order to find work and fund his friend's play he dresses as a woman, Dorothy Michaels, and lands the part in a daytime drama. Dorsey loses himself in this woman role and essentially becomes Dorothy Michaels, captivating women all around the city and inspiring them to break free from the control of men and become more like Dorsey's initial identity. This newfound role, however, lands Dorsey in a hot spot between a female friend/'lover,' a female co-star he falls in love with, that co-star's father who falls in love with him, and a male co-star who yearns for his affection. Written by
There is so much more to this film than Dustin Hoffman running around in a dress trying to act like a woman. Tootsie is one of the most intelligent comedies I've ever seen. It is perfectly cast, well-layered, and full of surprises.
Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey. He seems to know everything about acting except how to stay employed as an actor. In an early montage we see him auditioning for numerous plays where he is either too old, too young, too short, simply not the right guy for the part, or in some cases impossible to work with. We also see him trying to teach his craft to some young wannabe actors, and working at a restaurant to pay the bills. After a hilarious argument with his agent, he is simply told "No one will hire you!" The very next shot has Hoffman in drag walking down the street to an audition for a soap opera part his friend (Terri Garr) was unable to land. So intent is the chauvinistic director (Coleman) on casting a woman that looks tough enough for the part of a hospital administrator, Hoffman is denied without so much as a reading. He responds with a hilarious tirade that opens the door to his television career. Hoffman lands the part, and is soon winning over fans all over the country.
While Hoffman finds it wonderful to be working regularly, his personal life is understandably put to the test. He alienates Garr, is constantly made fun of by his roommate (Murray) and falls in love with one of his co-stars (Lange) who of course cannot learn his secret or he's out of a job. Things are further complicated when two older men fall in love with him. It would be pointless to try and describe some of the awkward situations he finds himself in. You must see the movie to experience them for yourself.
The film is so well-cast it's incredible. There are so many fine actors at work here that it almost becomes a contest of who can steal the scene first. Murray gets his share with his improvised lines. His lamenting of the state of his plays during a party scene will have you howling. The icing on the cake was director Sydney Pollack agreeing to play Hoffman's agent. They only have a few scenes together, but they are the film's best.
Tootsie is head and shoulders above other films I've seen that deal with men in women's clothing. Mrs. Doubtfire for example was all slapstick without much heart. In the end it tried to redeem itself in that department and just got way too sappy. Tootsie also wisely holds back in the feminism department. Although Hoffman's Dorothy Michaels is clearly a woman who inspires others to stand up for themselves, he is advised to tone it down by Pollack in one scene. Hoffman feels his Dorothy character should be doing specials and giving advice and whatnot, but Pollack reminds him, "You have NOTHING to say to women, Michael." In other words, you're lucky you've gotten away with the stunt up to this point, now you should be looking for a way to get out.
Overall Tootsie is wonderful experience. It made a fortune when released, and is still very relevant today. Don't miss it! 10 of 10 stars from the Hound.
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