Before Tootsie, Hoffman had been known more for his dramatic appearances in such films as All the President's Men and The Graduate. He hadn't been involved with all-out comedy yet, whether for lack of industry faith or blind luck. So Tootsie was his first venture into this more mainstream audience area, and he more than filled the part. Which brings us to one of the greatest role-reversal movies of the 1980's, for which Hoffman was nominated by the Academy again (though he didn't win).
Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is an unemployed actor. He is passionate about his career, if only he would be given a chance! He becomes so frustrated, in fact, that he decides it is probably easier for a woman to get an acting job than a man, so dresses like one in an audition. His struggles begin with the famed casting couch as he must keep his femininity intact while still using wiles to get the part.
Now Dorothy Michaels, he lands a supporting role in a soap opera and fame arrives instantly. As his star rises, so does his love for his costar Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange, who did win an Oscar). As incestuous turmoil breeds on set, Dorothy becomes more popular. And as Michael takes turns being a mother to some, confessor to others, best friend, and object of lust, his respect for what he thought would be easy grows. There is a specific individual part Michael he must play for each person he works with, otherwise his paycheck will be gone, along with the woman he loves.
It may be a predictable story by now, almost 20 years later, but much of the humor still stands the test. What keeps this movie so entertaining is not the plot, which has been seen time and again, but the comedic writing (penned by Larry Gelbart, also famous for M*A*S*H) and the fine acting of Hoffman and Bill Murray. Murray isn't a major character but his meaty supporting role is flawless in terms of judging the change in Hoffman as well as their comfortable banter.
Hoffman's growth is earned instead of just a slew of easy plot devices thrown in to say, "Look, he's different now!" The character that Dorsey creates in Dorothy has three dimensions as well, instead of being a mere alter ego. Where Lange could simply have been the object of desire at the end of his tunnel, she lends a pleasurable presence whenever she walks onscreen before she even opens her mouth.
The scenes that take place behind the camera of the soap opera also never get long or boring. There is constant movement and attitude swirling in the environment. And where some of the secondary characters become a bit like caricatures, they are each charismatic enough to be able to affect great reactions from the protagonist.
A great movie for couples or those who like a good laugh at stereotypes and sexual mores, Tootsie is as wonderful of a romantic comedy today as it was 20 years ago.
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th December 1982
Box Office Worldwide: $177.2M
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Mirage Enterprises, Punch Productions, Delphi Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 36 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Sydney Pollack
Screenwriter: Murray Schisgal
Starring: Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels, Jessica Lange as Julie Nichols, Teri Garr as Sandy, Dabney Coleman as Ron Carlisle, Charles Durning as Les Nichols, Bill Murray as Jeff Slater, Sydney Pollack as George Fields, George Gaynes as John Van Horn, Geena Davis as April, Doris Belack as Rita, Ellen Foley as Jacqui, Peter Gatto as Rick, Lynne Thigpen as Jo, Ronald L. Schwary as Phil Weintraub, Debra Mooney as Mrs. Mallory, Amy Lawrence as Amy, Kenny Sinclair as Boy, Susan Merson as Page, Michael Ryan as Middle-Aged Man, Robert D. Wilson as Stage Hand, James Carruthers as Middle-Aged Man, Estelle Getty as Middle-Aged Woman, Christine Ebersole as Linda
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