For a long time I’ve avoided watching movies starring Dustin Hoffman because I didn’t like the voice of his Italian dubbing actor. When some years ago I started watching all movies in their original language, I was finally able to appreciate the talent of the great Dustin Hoffman. Tootsie, the 1982 film directed by Sidney Pollack, is practically based exclusively on the performance of that actor who tries to succeed in the equivalent of a jazz standard for a male actor: being credible in the role of a woman.
Why do I call it a standard? Well, already in ancient Greece there were no theatrical actresses, so men had to play female characters as well. But, to remain in the realm of cinema, there are countless films centered on the man-woman disguise exactly like Tootsie: Miss Charlot (1915) with Charlie Chaplin, Some Like It Hot (1959) with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, Mrs Doubtfire (1993) with Robin Williams… I could mention endless examples!
In this case, the gimmick is at the service of a comedy in which the protagonist, the unsuccessful actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), realizes how badly he has treated the women of his life (and how much society in general is unfair to women) only once he decides to become his female alter ego Dorothy Michaels. Above all, the eye openers for Michael are his relationships with Julie (Jessica Lange) and Sandy (Teri Garr). Michael falls in love with Julie, and at the same time Sandy is in love with him but he doesn’t feel the same about her.
When you think about it, this is dramatic rather than comic (it’s no coincidence that Hoffman has always maintained that for him this film isn’t a comedy at all). However, I laughed a lot while watching Tootsie… Michael’s character is unbearable: self-centered and convinced to always be right, his scenes are often hilarious. Then, when he becomes Dorothy things get even better, partly because of the comedy of errors, and partly because Hoffman is really impressive. He’s credible as a woman! He’s not an attractive woman, of course, but it’s funny to see that when she behaves exactly like Michael did as a man, she manages to achieve incredible success and she gains the respect of everyone.
Tootsie is well-written and well-made, and Sidney Pollack directs well his cast and also has some fun in playing Michael’s agent, George Fields, who constantly fights with his actor. Apparently, Pollack decided to play the character just to let off steam freely with Hoffman with whom things weren’t exactly going smoothly on set!
And then how not to adore the young Bill Murray who plays Michael’s roommate and aspiring screenwriter? Tootsie really impressed me. Did I mention that it also stars also a very young Geena Davis (she was 26 years old)? If you haven’t seen this move, give it a chance and you won’t regret it. Here’s an example of the brilliance of the film’s dialogues, it’s a line said by Michael to Julie in the climax of the film:
“I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man”
This is great, these few words sum up both Michael’s character growth and the main theme of the film! And this is only one of the quality peaks of Tootsie’s script, which was written by Larry Gelbart starting from a story he wrote together with Don McGuire (although, according to Imdb, other people have worked on it too, including none other than Barry Levinson who would work with Dustin Hoffman five years later on Rain Man). Ciao!