I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Seen…Tootsie

The last two editions of this series have seen my fellow Trespassers investigate Die Hard and Stand By Me. Far be it from me to not continue this trend of discovering 1980s classics for the first time, I thought it finally time to watch Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie. Following in Hollywood’s grand tradition of finding the hilarity in men dressing like women, Tootsie sees struggling actor Michael Dorsey (a game Dustin Hoffman in an Oscar-nominated performance) take on the role of his life as “Dorothy Michaels”. As a woman, Michael becomes the rising star of a popular afternoon soap opera in the vein of General Hospital, whilst at the same time falling awkwardly in love with one of his female co-stars. Will wacky hijinks ensue? What do you think?

A comedy of surprisingly refined class for 1982, Tootsie doesn’t just get its laughs out of simply watching the ways Hoffman handles the everyday effort to portray a woman (the hair, the make-up, the clothes – oh, the clothes!), but more out of how his newfound persona changes not only his opinion of himself, but also women and the industry that has chewed him up and spat him out. As Dorothy’s soap opera character morphs into a powerful, no guff idol to women across New York City and beyond (oh, the gorgeous Manhattan locations!), Michael sees the wrong in how he’s treated everyone else. “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man,” Michaels tells co-star Julie Nichols (a fresh-faced Oscar-winning Jessica Lange) and you know what? Hoffman made me believe it.

More Some Like It Hot than Mrs Doubtfire (let’s not talk about Sorority Boys, yeah?), in 2007 Tootsie was voted the 69th greatest film of all time by the American Film Institute. It’s not hard to see why and it’s realisations like that that make me disappointed it took this long to see it! Given its iconic status, smart comedy and its standing as one of the less offensive takes on gender reversal, Tootsie feels like a natural fit for me to love and adore.

Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange) and Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman) share a scene in Tootsie

Perhaps its my natural predisposition to appreciate what the masses do not, but I’m far more likely to think a performance like this by Dustin Hoffman is eminently more award-worthy than Kramer vs Kramer and Rain Man, for which he won Academy Awards. The Academy rarely nominate such a strikingly unambiguous comedy–unlike, say, Shakespeare in Love or Annie Hall, which are more typically sophisticated romantic comedies–so I am particularly pleased that they saw fit to honour Tootsie with bountiful nominations. Filled to the brim with effortlessly etched comedic performances from Bill Murray, Teri Garr, Sydney Pollack and a debut Geena Davis, Tootsie is a sweet-natured and hilarious look at the actor’s life and makes for a delicious and entirely undated film that today’s comedy makers could take a few tips from.