Not too long ago, an interview with Dustin Hoffman had been making the rounds on the internet wherein he discussed the process of making the film Tootsie. It’s wonderful insight from Hoffman in terms of how important it was for him to make that film. For Hoffman, the film “was never a comedy”. That isn’t to say that Tootsie isn’t funny; far from it. In fact, so well regarded is Tootsie as a comedy that AFI declared it the second best comedy of all time in 2000 (coincidentally, the #1 funniest film ranked by AFI was Some Like it Hot, which also dealt with cross dressing). Thirty-one years later, Tootsie still has plenty to offer- feeling as fresh today as it did when it first came out.
Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor whose perfectionist attitude has scared away any producers from hiring him. On the side, Michael teaches an acting class where he befriends Sandy (Teri Garr) who is also struggling to find work as well as gain affection from Michael. It isn’t until Sandy loses out on a role for a soap opera that Michael attempts to rebrand himself, creating the persona Dorothy, and auditioning for the part as well. Michael’s plan works, but the character soon becomes so popular that Michael realizes he may have to perform as Dorothy much longer than he anticipated. As Michael balances two personas, he must also fight harassment on the set, advances from different men, as well as struggling with his growing affection towards Julie (Jessica Lange in an Oscar winning performance), an actress whom Michael (as Dorothy) grows close to. The struggles he faces as a woman are compounded with Michael’s normal life as he attempts to balance work and pleasure.
On paper, the premise of Tootsie seems strictly for laughs, which the film does indeed offer. But it also offers so much more. Dorothy is able to find work that Michael found so hard to come by, a reward in of itself. But slowly, Dorothy becomes a real person, providing confidence not only in Michael, but the women with whom she works with as well female fans. Her tenacity is inspiring as well as attractive- both to Julie’s father and fellow cast member, John Van Horn. It is through the eyes of Michael that we observe the hardships that women faced in the workforce in the 80’s. Sexual Harassment seems to have been prevalent then, as it still is today. Tootsie’s ability to highlight these issues comedically, rather than bluntly driving the point, only displays how well written the film was. The film could have strictly played up the cross dressing scenario for laughs, but instead digs deeper to find heart and charm. And thanks to wonderful performances from a stellar cast, we are able to enjoy a witty yet poignant film.
While parts of Tootsie may seem dated, the film as a whole still is as relevant and funny today as it was in 82. An oscar worthy performance from Dustin Hoffman and Teri Garr, as well as great work from Bill Murray and Sydney Pollack, Tootsie overs much more than laughs, and in the end, may just make you cry.