Sunday, December 7, 2014


SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

I never liked Tootsie Roll candies. They weren't that tasty and they always became stuck between my teeth. But the film Tootsie is a delectable treat to watch. 1982 was an exceptional year for Oscar caliber films. Ghandi is a sweeping, intelligent epic, and the eventual Academy Award winner for best film, director, and actor, Ben Kingsley, in a totally believable performance as the title character. Another film, The Verdict, could also have won in any other year for its performance by Paul Newman and the enduring greatness of the script by David Mamet. And, of course, there was that creature who everyone hoped would phone home, ET. But, Tootsie was another terrific film that year, which, although a comedy, has many thought provoking insights into male/female relationships. It is also a movie that shows how the overwhelming majority of actors are unemployed and desperate to practice their craft. But, it transcends on the theme of identity, and poses questions about who we are.

Dustin Hoffman's character, Michael Dorsey, is a struggling New York actor. Because he needs money to produce the play by his roommate, played by an unbilled Bill Murray, and is perceived as too difficult to work with, he dresses up as a woman and lands a role as a strong-willed hospital administrator. The ironies pile up. As Dorothy Michaels, he is at first considered too genteel, too feminine to get the role until Dorothy asserts herself later in the audition. Dorothy becomes very popular on the show as a breakthrough “woman” who will not be dominated in a man's world. Her strength influences the woman Michael falls in love with, Julie Nichols, played by Jessica Lange in an Oscar-winning supporting actress role. She leaves her two-timing boyfriend, the soap director, Ron, played by Dabney Coleman. Michael starts to understand women in this new role, and says he knows what it's like to get rejected just because he doesn't have the right "look" for a part. Because he is an actor, he realizes what it's like to be a woman, waiting for the phone to ring. He tells his agent (played by director Sydney Pollack) that he has something to say to women like him, but Pollack points out that there are no women like him. 

We see Michael at the onset of the film on the make, just like most. He later lies to Teri Garr's character, Sandy, because he doesn't want to reveal that he has taken the part for which she auditioned. He goes to bed with her to cover up why he is caught half-undressed, ready to try on her clothes. He then stands her up so he can be with Julie. Thus, he is not unlike the director, because he uses women, too. As Dorothy, seeing how the director treats Julie, and calls women "Babe," "Hon," and "Tootsie," he tells Coleman that he understands him better than he thinks, because he realizes now that there is no excuse for how Michael has treated women. It is when he experiences the condescension that women must endure that he changes his outlook.

Early in the film, Murray's character, Ted, tells Michael, who is making money being a waiter, just one role he plays, to stop being Michael Dorsey the waiter, or the actor, just be yourself. At that point, he isn't sure who that really is. It is through the film’s narrative that he learns to become a better man by being a woman.

Julie's dad, Wes, played by Charles Durning, becomes interested in Dorothy romantically. When he later finds out that “she” is a he, Wes is able to admit that he found Michael good company, and they are on their way to becoming friends as they shoot a game of pool together at the end of the movie. So, Les actually likes the person under the costume. He connects to the essence of the other person based on what is below the surface appearance. 

There are some insightful scenes in the film. As Dorothy, Hoffman can't get a cab to stop, but when he uses his real male voice, the cab stops. In that small scene, volumes are spoken about how society will follow the commands of a male over a female. Dorothy, at Wes' farm with Julie, has to share the bed with her. He wears a fake hairnet and the wig gets stuck and looks backward when he turns his head around on the pillow, illustrating the reverse universe of the film. In another scene, Julie tells Dorothy that it would be refreshing if a man would just say I want to make love to you, showing her desire to want sex just like a man without game playing: however, when Michael as himself says those words to Julie at the party they attend, it comes off like just another pick-up line, and she throws a drink in his face – acting like a woman is supposed to act with a forward man. 

Michael also begins to realize how much money and time women spend on wardrobe and makeup since appearance is what is valued above all else in society's assessment of women. At one point, the older actor on the soap says, after Dorothy receives candy from Les, that giving chocolates to a woman is a thoughtless gift, implying that it just adds weight to the female form – another reference to the emphasis on looks when it comes to women. When Julie finds out that Michael is Dorothy, instead of slapping him, like a woman is supposed to do, she instead punches him hard in the stomach, showing a role reversal, and how she has been influenced by the strong Dorothy even in this moment of the unveiling of his deception.

The first scene of the film shows Michael, putting on make-up, (which is really Hoffman, an actor, pretending to be an actor preparing for an actor’s role) presenting an outward appearance that is part of a role, something that is different than who he is in real life. But, don't all people play roles, dress up as doctors, teachers, office workers, firemen, policemen, etc.  And, don't actors, as well as others, bring forth to the outer performance inward qualities? And sometimes, doesn't the role, the outward action, transform the inner person? What do you think about how much the inner person is like or unlike what appears on the outside?

Next week’s movie is Sweet Smell of Success.

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