Sunday, July 3, 2011

1982 - Tootsie

In my last post, I bemoaned the tribulations of moving house. For most, the discomfort of the move is, at least, offset by the excitement of the new surroundings. However, Kat and I have unfortunately managed to experience that discomfort with no subsequent excitement. I won't bother with the frustrating - and somewhat humiliating - details, but suffice it to say, we found ourselves involved with a rather shady real estate broker. Luckily, the ordeal ended with no monetary loss on our part, but the annoying result is that we packed everything into boxes only to unpack it all at the same apartment. Yep, we're not moving after all.

I am now currently in Delaware to shoot a short film for a week (more details at a later time) but with my one day off yesterday, I shunned the Diamond State's sights to stay in my hotel room and watch the next of 1982's Best Picture nominees...

Sydney Pollack
Larry Gelbart, Don McGuire, Murray Schisgal
Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, Sydney Pollack, George Gaynes, Geena Davis
Academy Awards:
10 nominations
1 win, for Best Supporting Actress (Lange)

Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is a struggling actor in New York City, making ends meet by teaching acting classes and working in a restaurant. His desperation is apparent on audition after audition, but his reputation as difficult to work with is perhaps his greatest barrier. Even his agent George (Pollack) has all but given up, claiming that nobody wants to hire him. Almost in defiance of his agent's words, Michael boldly transforms himself into Dorothy Michaels to audition for a female role on a popular soap opera, and winds up landing the part. Keeping up the charade is a constant battle as he begins to fall in love with his co-star Julie (Lange) who only sees him as a close girlfriend.

Tootsie is a lovable film. It is at once witty and heartwarming, the perfect balance of comedy and sentiment. Perhaps some of the farcical elements are a tad on the cheap side, but somehow the slapstick never gets in the way of the film's earnestness. The humour is always rooted in truth, so we remain invested even when Hoffman's character defends his antics on the set of a commercial in which he played a tomato by remarking, "I did an evening of vegetables on Broadway."

The cheesy theme song is a little hard to bear, but it is the 1980s, after all. Also forgivable are the somewhat unrealistic depictions of the entertainment industry. Perhaps it's just me, but after many, many years of auditioning, not once have I ever heard the producer confirm that I had the part three seconds after I finish the read. As much as I wish it did, it just doesn't happen that way. Nor would a soap opera ever decide to record an episode live to air with only half a day's notice. Logistically, that would be near impossible. In any case, the overall charm of the piece easily makes up for all of these sketchy and convenient plot points. Well, all but one. The all-important climax plays out far too quickly to be believable. Then again, considering the incredibly awkward and unforgivable situation in which our protagonist finds himself, I'm not sure there is any satisfactory way to resolve this story. At least Michael himself seems aware of the depth of his predicament when he confusingly confesses, "I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man." Funny, but not really enough to make me buy that Julie would forgive such a humiliating deception so instantaneously.

Nonetheless, despite the improbable ending, the picture is delightfully appealing. And, in a rare occurrence for a comedy, the Academy bestowed ten nominations on the film. Dustin Hoffman (pictured) received a Best Actor nod, delivering a masterfully honest performance in a role that could so easily have been played for silly laughs. Both Teri Garr and Jessica Lange garnered Best Supporting Actress citations for their respectively wacky and touching portrayals, the latter winning the prize. Bill Murray turns in yet another amusing performance full of wonderfully dry wit. Not only does Sydney Pollack helm the film with aplomb, but he also appears on screen, holding his own in several word-sparring scenes with Hoffman. In her film debut, Geena Davis is quirky and cute, and see if you can spot a pre-Golden Girls Estelle Getty in a bit part.


  1. Tootsie’s screenplay and Dustin Hoffman’s inspired performance are the two principal reasons that this film is nearly brilliant to me. Its development is a story worth sharing - From Pauline Kael:

    “Tootsie began with Don McGuire, who wrote what is said to have been a wild screenplay. After it was sold and Dick Richards was set to be the director, Robert Kaufman was hired to do a new draft. When Dustin Hoffman read Kaufman’s version, he agreed to play in the picture, and brought in his playwright pal Murray Schisgal, to rework the material. Then the director, Dick Richards, was replaced by Hal Ashby, and Larry Gelbart was hired for yet another version. After that, Hal Ashby was replaced by Sidney Pollack, and Elaine May (who chose to remain anonymous) was signed to do a rewrite; after her came the team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin, and after them, Robert Garland. And with some of these people doing more than one draft, when the screenplay had to be submitted to the Writers Guild for arbitration over the issue of who should get the screen credit, three large cardboard boxes were needed to transport the more than twenty scripts. Pollack must have saved whatever he could of the best in each of them – Tootsie sounds as if one superb comedy writer had done it all. There is talk in Hollywood now of forming the "I Also Wrote/I Almost Directed" Tootsie Club. The writing credit went to Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal. They were nominated and should have won an Oscar for Original Screenplay.

    I’m not usually a big fan of drag comedies. Even the classic Some Like it Hot wouldn’t make my top ten comedies, despite some acknowledged hilarity. Tootsie is the exception. Maybe it’s because I actually bought into Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels. The movie is farcical, but with a believability that I haven’t found in other films of this type.

    Having spent my career in law enforcement, I often dismay at some of the procedural lapses that occur in most cop movies. Of the most common is how the lead can be involved in all sort of gunplay, and just dust himself off and go on with his pursuits. No reports, administrative leave, etc. I guess the same works for you with films taking place within show business.

    The staircase denouement was a comic tour-de-force for me. Things wrapped up rather quickly, but the editing in that sequence was perfect. As to the romantic conclusion, I think Julie was ready for Michael to approach her. Her love life wasn’t exactly roses, and as he said, they were already good friends. He just has to do it without the dress. Would they be together a year later? Probably not, but I’d like to think so.

  2. The end quote on Kael's story should go after Murray Schisgal in the next to last line of paragraph two. The last line about the Screenplay Oscar is my opinion, not Kael's.