MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #69. Tootsie (1982)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“Not threatening enough? Listen, you take your hands off me or I’ll knee your balls right through the roof of your mouth! Is that enough of a threat?”

Much like Rodney Dangerfield, comedy movies get no respect.  Sure, they can make good box office and comedy stars get massive pay cheques, but comedy movies rarely get high falutin’ awards or snooty critical recognition.  So when one does break through, it’s a sign of something special.  And because a lot of comedies rely on lazy pop culture references disguised as jokes, when one endures, it’s an even bigger sign.  Over 30 years ago, Tootsie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards.  And all these years later, Tootsie is still revered as one of the best comedies in Hollywood history.  So, does Tootsie deserve that reputation?

Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is a struggling New York actor, going from one unsuccessful audition to the next.  Making money on the side as a waiter and acting coach, he helps one of his friends / students (Teri Garr as Sandy) prepare for a soap opera audition.  Not only does she miss out on the part, it also leads to Michael  finding out that he’s been passed over for a Broadway role he thought he had a real shot at.  While complaining to his agent (Sydney Pollack), who lets Michael know that the rest of showbiz sees him as a difficult pain in the ass, Michael takes it as a challenge to get a role, any role.

Dragging up and taking on the persona of Dorothy Michaels, he storms into the soap opera set from earlier and almost immediately secures the role his friend missed out on.  With only his agent and housemate (Bill Murray as Jeff) in on the scam, Dorothy’s career quickly takes off in a way that Michael’s never has.  But the more he gets what he thinks he always wanted as Dorothy, the more he struggles to balance his two identities.  Especially as he begins to fall for his soap co-star, Julie (Jessica Lang).

Dustin Hoffman playing a woman is a pretty high concept that makes the movie easy enough to describe and generate interest in.  I assume it’s a big part of what made Tootsie such a success all those years ago.  But here’s the thing, I’ve seen Tootsie before, about five years ago, and Dustin Hoffman playing a woman is almost all I could remember about it.  I didn’t remember any other characters or anything about the relationship between Michael / Dorothy and Julie.  Considering that’s supposed to be the emotional heart of the movie, my complete amnesia about that aspect of probably says a lot about how well I think it works.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like Tootsie or find it funny.  The gender politics stuff is kind of predictable, and there are the same old hacky jokes that come with any movie where a character is pretending to be two different people, but there are still plenty of funny bits.  What surprised me though, is that the majority of them happen in the first 20 minutes or so, before the wig and makeup go on.  As a movie about gender and relationships, it’s at its best when it’s a movie attacking and making fun of pretentious actors, their insecurities and the world of show business.

Directed By – Sydney Pollack
Written By – Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Gandhi)
Best Director (Pollack nominated, lost to Richard Attenborough for Gandhi)
Best Actor (Hoffman nominated, lost to Ben Kinglsey for Gandhi)
Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Lang
Best Supporting Actress (Garr nominated)
Best Original Screenplay (nominated, lost to Gandhi)

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