I'd like to spank the Academy

Tootsie (1982)

tootsieDirected by Sydney Pollack

I had seen Tootsie before, when I was probably ten or eleven. At that time in my life, I just thought it was weird. Why in the world would a man dress as a woman? Why could nobody see that Dorothy was a man? I didn’t understand the gender politics at play, either, so I was just left with an impression of oddness. This is why eleven-year-olds shouldn’t review movies made for adults. Tootsie is fabulous and hilarious and still relevant today, which is honestly kind of sad. There should have been more progress made in equality in the workplace in the last thirty-three years.

So what’s the story? Michael Dorsey is an actor who can’t get work. Even though he’s good, he has a reputation of being difficult to work with. Desperately in need of money, Michael decides to become Dorothy Michaels in order to try out for a role on a soap opera that a female friend didn’t get.  Michael soon finds out that when he puts on his dress and his makeup, he also puts on a different personality as Dorothy, inadvertently becoming a crusader for women’s rights. He also finds himself falling for his female coworker, but he can’t tell her who he really is. Will Michael be able to pull off his deception? Does love really conquer all? And will Michael ever lend his dresses to Julie?

The Good: The screenplay is brilliant. Both funny and meaningful, it manages to show Michael’s growth as a person without ever being preachy or obvious. It’s a tough balancing act, and the screenwriters pulled it off. After I watching Tootsie, I’ve been thinking about why more comedies aren’t nominated for best picture; watching lots of heavy dramas isn’t always the most fun. I’ve decided that it’s because the best movies introduce you to a new idea or make you think, and it is much easier to do that with a dramatic story than with a comedic one. The writers for Tootsie managed that, partly by letting the characters in the movie be real people, who sometimes get off killer zingers and who sometimes have no idea what to say. I love it. (Incidentally, this is one of the few times that I have recognized the name of a screenwriter as it flashed on the screen during the opening scenes: Larry Gelbart is one of the writers and producers of the television show M*A*S*H*, which is grew up watching with my parents and then grew to appreciate when I watched reruns on the Hallmark Channel in college. M*A*S*H* balances comedy with hard topics in the same way.)

The acting is fabulous all around. Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey and Michael Dorsey playing Dorothy Michaels so well that it’s indescribable. It’s a performance that needs to be seen, not just talked about. Teri Garr is wonderful as Sandy, the friend whose role Michael steals. She’s frustrated as an actress and as a woman, but she has hope that maybe things will get better. I love the role, and I love Teri Garr in it. Charles Durning plays Les, a man who falls in love with Dorothy. His reactions later on in the movie are priceless. Bill Murray is Jeff, Michael’s sarcastic playwright roommate. George Gaynes plays John Van Horn, the star of the soap opera who believes that he has the right to kiss all of his female coworkers. Michael’s bewildered agent is played by Sydney Pollack, who also directed the movie. Even the small roles are incredibly well-played. It’s one of those casts that melds together well and plays perfectly off each other. I love it.

The makeup is very good. Dustin Hoffman is listed twice in the credits, both as Michael Dorsey and as Dorothy Michaels. I think that decision was made because Dustin Hoffman is basically unrecognizable when he’s made up as Dorothy. It’s quite the feat.

The Bad: For being a movie about women being powerful, Julie and Sandy are both kind of stereotypical and weak. Sandy gets weepy and hysterical often at the drop of a hat, and Julie doesn’t have much personality. She’s brave to have a baby on her own in the 1980s, and she’s a sweet girl, but she doesn’t go very deep. It’s kind of disappointing that the only woman who is very strong and who bucks female stereotypes is a man.

The Ugly: The soundtrack is everything that is bad about ‘80s music. I’m not sure how it sounded originally, but it hasn’t aged well. The theme song (“It Might Be You”) is over-synthesized, which makes it super-cheesy. It might be a beautiful song if it was a bit more simplified, but it nothing about the 80s was simple or subtle, and the music in Tootsie suffers because of that.

Oscar Won: Best supporting actress (Jessica Lange).

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Dustin Hoffman); best actress is a supporting role (Teri Garr); best director; best writing, screenplay written directly for screen; best cinematography; best sound; best film editing; best music, original song (“It Might Be You”).

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