Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie: Trading Faces

Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is an unemployed actor known for his high demands, hence nobody will hire him. In an effort to find work and fund his friend’s play, he dresses as a woman and gets a part in a daytime TV drama. Dorsey loses himself in this new female role and becomes Dorothy Michaels, captivating women everywhere, inspiring them to break the chains of society’s patriarchal regime. However, Dorsey soon finds himself in a tight spot between a female friend / lover, a female co-star (Jessica Lange) he has fallen for, the same co-star’s father who has fallen in love with Dorothy, and an irritating male co-star who longs for Dorothy’s affection.

What happens when you cross a hopelessly desperate actor with a fire engine-red dress? You get America’s most popular new actress, Dorothy Michaels AKA Tootsie. Little did the desperate Dorsey know that when he secretly auditioned for the female role, that he’d become a television hit. Not even his student / sometimes lover knows that what he’s done, and neither does Julie (Lange), the woman he’s madly in love with. “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?” says Dorothy to Ron (Dabney Colman) after her audition, and it’s then you know she’s going to raise a ruckus.

Bill Murray plays Michael’s roommate Jeff whilst Dustin Hoffman plays both Dorothy and Dorsey
(Tootsie, Columbia Pictures)

The 1980s is before my time but that doesn’t mean I won’t exploit that thing we call the internet, so I can play catch up. This was made in a time where comedies used to be films with real stories that were actually funny. Rather than today where we have to be content with the latest Will Ferrell punchline or Kevin Hart’s screeching. That said, I saw The Death of Stalin the other day and that was very good. However, Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie has tons of laughs (real ones) and that’s what comedy should be. There are few comedies on the AFI’s Top 100 American films. Tootsie sits at #69 and it’s truly one of Dustin Hoffman’s best performances on what is a fantastic filmography.

Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) seems to know everything about acting. Well, everything except how to stay employed. He’s either not right for the part (physical attributes) or he’s impossible to work with. He doesn’t have a bedside manner that works with employers. After a funny argument with his agent he’s told that nobody in New York wants to work with him. But what’s more, he’s told “nobody in Hollywood wants to work with you. I can’t even set you up for a commercial. You played a tomato for 30 seconds. They went a half a day over schedule because you wouldn’t sit down” and next thing we know Hoffman (The Graduate) is tearing up the street in high heels and a fluffed wig.

At least this is more convincing than Clarke Kent not being Superman (because… glasses)
(Tootsie, Columbia Pictures)

This is one of those films that sounds terrible on paper but when you see it for yourself, it’s a delight. Dustin Hoffman (All The President’s Men) and Jessica Lange (Feud) give excellent performances. The direction is sound and I enjoyed the musical score. This film should not work but it does and I mean that in the best possible way.

Looking beyond the film: its underbelly is a critique and / or discussion of gender and womanism in America and with the Weinstein Scandal (and the aftermath), it just makes this film even more potent