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By now, many people must be aware of this movie, which stars Dustin Hoffman as a financially troubled actor who dares himself to dress as a woman in order to get a part on a soap opera, and actually becomes a star as a woman. During his stint as a woman, he is able to see how the other half lives, and in the process finds a connection to women (and one woman in particular) which he could never have if he were not dressed as a woman. Tootsie is not the first movie of its type. Billy Wilder`s Some Like it Hot did more or less the same thing in 1959, when Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dressed up as women in an all-girl band to get away from pursuing gangsters. That movie also played up the idea of men seeing what it is really like to be a woman. Yet Tootsie does a lot more than even Billy Wilder could have done, as it contains what may possibly be an even more daring deconstruction of gender, and it also contains a performance by Hoffman which can only be described as insane.


Hoffman`s performance goes all out, because he can`t just merely disguise himself as a woman, but also has to convince everyone around that he is indeed female. The mannerisms and speaking voice that Hoffman`s character employs are, in some ways, exaggerated, but at the same time he does not go over the top with them, so everyone is reasonably convinced that Dorothy Michaels is a very unique, and strong-willed, woman. This leads to the huge irony of the film, which is that "Dorothy Michaels" becomes not just a permanent member of the soap cast, but becomes a symbol for a strong, independent woman, in a genre, and a medium, which, at this time (early 1980`s), did not have many strong female characters. "Her" strong will is actually a result of something more practical; he has to deal with the unwanted attentions, and sexist remarks, of people such as his producer, and a veteran actor, and his natural refusal to let another man say and do this stuff to him is manifested as the outburst of a new kind of woman. In one sense, it can be discouraging, because we know that Dorothy Michaels is not the real deal, and just another man attempting (albeit unconsciously) to influence women. But in another sense, it shows that perhaps the human race should not construct itself as two halves who never attempt to relate to, or understand, each other. If Hoffman`s character, as a woman, encourages women to be much more assertive about themselves, then wouldn`t that be a good thing, no matter who is under all that make-up and clothing?

It helps that Hoffman`s character of Michael is not a complete clod to begin with. When you think about it, it would take some courage, and understanding of the ultimate artificiality of at least some gender roles, to be somewhat comfortable about dressing up as a woman in order to get a job. You could not see John Wayne playing a role like this!! Hoffman`s character is the sort to believe in hard work, discipline, and challenges when it comes to acting, and this is no exception. He is able to play his role effortlessly; he is able to behave just like a sensible, assertive, woman would appear to be, and everyone around him, including us in the audience, believes that it is genuine, and not a put-on. Michael already is able to relate to women as potential friends, since he has had a friendship with Teri Garr`s character for many years, so it is natural that even as he yearns for Jessica Lange, he is able to treat her with the utmost respect when he is Dorothy, and of course, it is this sort of behavoir which makes their bond all the more rich.

Besides being a complex movie, it is also a funny one. Two very funny things happen in this movie, one is when Hoffman turns a potentially embarrassing situation with one of Teri Garr`s dresses into an impulsive seduction of her (which only adds to more problems later). And another is a classic use of improvasation, when "Dorothy" finally comes clean with who "she" really is, live in front of the whole viewing world. As well, the soundtrack is suitably 80`s cheese, and every other actor in the large cast (Teri Garr, Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, Charles Durling, Dabney Coleman, Geena Davis) does a good job.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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