Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Bill Murray, Charles Durning, Geena Davis, Sydney Pollack
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Estimated Worldwide Gross: $177,200,000
Plot: An out-of-work actor disguises himself as a dowdy, middle-aged woman to get a part on a hit soap opera. The scheme works, but while s/he keeps up the charade, Michael Dorsey in disguise as Dorothy comes to see life through the eyes of the opposite sex.
'The Pre- Mrs Doubtfire Of The '80s Generation'
Much has been said about Tootsie, the cross-dressing comedy of the 1980s: it was something of a revelation when it was released back in 1982, the idea of a man dressing up as a woman was common in real-life, but rarely often explored on- screen up until the likes of Some Like It Hot and this film made this theme all the more possible. And real.
The comparisons and similarities between Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire are there - Michael Dorsey and Daniel Hillard are both unemployed actors, both are difficult actors of whom nobody wants to work with and both dress up as women. Oh and both star Dustin Hoffman for Tootsie and Robin Williams for Mrs Doubtfire: both of whom eventually worked together on the Steven Spielberg 1991 epic, Hook.
After years of frustration of not being taken seriously as an actor and wanting to prove a point to himself that he is not some loser who is willing to settle for second best, Michael puts on a dress, applies makeup, a fake wig, high heels and a pair of glasses, not forgetting a fake Southern accent: alas, a star by the name of Tootsie is born. & guess what? It works.
So by this stage, Michael as Tootsie - or be it Dorothy Michaels has a job, is adorned by fans around the country and is now the talk of the town in the press, on talk shows, everything is rosy, right? Not quite. Because just when he thought it couldn't get any more complicated, Sandy becomes exasperated and even more frustrated when Michael becomes less interested in her and in their relationship. And to top it off, he later develops feelings for his co-star, Julie. And unknownst to him, Julie's father & another male actor also has the hots for Dorothy too!
Though the longer Michael keeps up this charade from his ditzy friend, Sandy - who still thinks Michael is in love with her when he isn't -, his secret crush, Julie and her dad, the more difficult it becomes for Michael to continue living two parallel lives as his female alter-ego and himself.
Sidney Pollack could've turned this film into a clone of Some Like it Hot or Mrs Doubtfire and, in reference to the latter, made Tootsie into a complete and utter slapstick farce with sentimental pap (the plot and premise of Tootsie were later imitated by Chris Columbus, 11 years after for Mrs Doubtfire). Instead, he opts to add more realism and humanistic aspects to it. Because of this approach, Tootsie becomes a movie about seeing and living life from the perspective of the opposite sex, whilst dressed as a person of the opposite sex! But more importantly, also, it also acts as a social critique of the way some men judge and perceive women as sex objects, rather than treating them as equals and in acknowledging that we too have brains and intelligence.
I scratch my head sometimes when people lauded Mrs Doubtfire as the first drag-based comedy film produced - yet label Tootsie as a rip-off of Some Like It Hot. Okay, Some Like It Hot first presided Tootsie. & Mrs Doubtfire isn't that original when there have been other drag-based comedy movies that came before it. But Tootsie was the pre-Mrs Doubtfire for the 1980s generation and beyond, and the drag theme was played out and executed in a far more insightful manner, with intelligence and feeling that also puts a smile on my face. There are so many screwball comedy aspects in this movie that I am not going to mention, as I don't want to spoil it for viewers and fans of Tootsie.
The film plays out as a traditional farce that is restrained with a humanity and a pleasantness that isn't reeking of sappiness so that it doesn't become so over-the-top that it puts people off, & all for the sake of a few laughs. And I think it definitely helps that the romantic subplot plays a huge part in this: Michael as Dorothy says funny things, does funny things not just to get a reaction, but that to show he is not a complete and utter jerk that people see to him as. Yet he sees through Julie's vision what he truly wants, and that she ultimately makes him become a better person as well.
It has such a good feel-good factor that begins, right from the beginning of the movie to the end; the humour is well done and is intelligent and not low brow. Over 30 years since it was released, this movie doesn't feel or come across as dated, whatsoever. Not my eyes, anyway. The script is brilliant, performance-wise everyone was great, from Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr (as much as her character annoyed me) and Sydney Pollack. I can't recall a single flaw or problem I had with this film; for me, Tootsie was just flawless in every single aspect. The manner it dealt with the romantic subplot of Julie and Michael was well-executed, I definitely felt them as a would-be couple and sensed their chemistry. The ending when Julie and Michael come face-to-face with each other for the first time, since Michael's on camera revelation as the man behind Tootsie/Dorothy was tastefully done and so warm and sweet to the point I was gushing throughout. Would have I liked to have seen them kiss? Yes, that would have been the icing on the cake for sure, but still seeing them walk together as the ending credits roll, was and is just as equally satisfying.
Dustin Hoffman was nothing short of exceptional in his sterling portrayal of a man trying to wrestle with his emotions and feelings & reaffirming that he is in touch with his feminine side, whilst also going out of his way to being taken seriously as a performer. Before as Michael, he was at times, difficult, had a short temper and was easily irritated - and yet by being & becoming Dorothy & thanks to Julie, all of a sudden he becomes a changed man, as he learns and understands, as well as realizes this alter-ego of his can bring out the best and most positive qualities in and out of himself. Jessica Lange played Julie to a T that she was so deserving of that Academy Award win for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for this film: to Julie, Dorothy is her friend, her bestie, someone who she can talk to and discuss female matters and issues with. Whereas Sandy was very wild, Julie, in contrast, was much more laid back and reserved in her demeanour and attitude. That, along with being caring and sensitive - and that in turn made Michael fall head over - or should that be as Dorothy fall head whilst wearing heels in love with Julie. & understandably so. Jessica presented Julie as this vulnerable -yet likeable girl next door type image.
Much to Michael's dismay, however, Julie is dating Ron, with which Dorothy witnesses him to be something of a chauvinist pig towards Julie and the other women on set. Bill Murray and Geena Davis are in this film too; Murray was brilliant in his typical dry and witty humour type of way (the scene of him eating lemon slices made me smile), whilst Davis has a short cameo as one of the supporting actresses on the soap opera TV show (trivia: both Geena Davis and Dustin Hoffman would end up playing alongside each other in the movie, Accidental Hero in 1992, 10 years later).
Tootsie isn't just a great comedy movie, it is also a great example of how to do a romantic comedy movie. And it is a romantic comedy with a difference.
Tootsie stands the test of time as one of the best romantic comedies ever produced that doesn't become too over-the-top and silly, to the point the movie becomes more and more ridiculous. As Michael Dorsey masquerading as Dorothy Michaels and Dorothy Michaels in the form of Michael Dorsey, Dustin Hoffman is at the top of his comedy A-game with a one-of-a-kind performance & brilliant support by the likes of Bill Murray, Teri Garr and Jessica Lange.
If you ask me what is my favourite romantic comedy film, my answer to that would be Tootsie.
Co-written, interestingly enough, by Barry Levinson, director of films such as Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam and Diner, this is a highly amusing, warm, feel-good, touching and a delightful experience all round. Tootsie rightfully deserved all of its plaudits.