I haven’t watched Dustin Hoffmann’s Tootsie since I was a kid. Liz Lemon on 30 Rock reminded me how good the movie is, saying that the screenplay was studied in her screenwriting class (yes, I know that Liz isn’t a real person. It hurts me.).
And she’s right. A lot of the TV and movies I remember from my childhood have been painted with an extra shiny sheen of nostalgia, but not Tootsie, which was made before I was before my childhood to be accurate. It was certainly before its time (whatever that means) in 1982.
If you haven’t seen Tootsie, Dustin Hoffmann stars as an out-of-work and difficult actor named Michael Dorsey. His agent George Fields (Sydney Pollack) tells Michael that he will never be able to find work in New York anymore because he has a reputation of being a perfectionist. In a twist of fate for them both, Michael follows his friend Sandy Lester (Teri Garr) to an audition for a soap opera called Southwest General, for which she is auditioning for the part of a ball-busting career woman. Michael runs home and dresses like a woman and wins the part of Dorothy Michaels, and comes to inspire housewives around the country to be stronger, bolder and more aggressive. One such woman is the girlfriend of the show’s condescending director (Dabney Coleman who also plays a sexist boss in Nine to Five), Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange).
Sure, the movie has its problems. Women can’t stand up for themselves unless there’s a man playing a woman, which is pworrisome in itself, but, after a season of playing a strong woman, Michael has to out his character as a man, as well. The nation knew Dorothy Michaels was a strong woman, but then they had to recognize that this strong woman got her strength because of her literal masculinity. Teri Garr’s Sandy is unyieldingly pathetic, and Coleman’s Ron Carlisle is an unyielding douche bag. One note characterization makes for boring characters.
But the acting from the leads is fantastic, as is Julie’s handling of Dorothy Michaels’ perceived lesbianism. I don’t know that the fact that Dorothy Michaels is a man necessarily ruins the movie’s feminism, either, in that Michael can finally see how badly women are treated. Not that this makes him stop treating Sandy badly, but we probably would have seen him treating Julie well if there was a Tootsie sequel. Why wasn't there?