One of the most endearing things about "Tootsie," a
movie in which Dustin Hoffman plays a middle-aged actress, is that the actress
is able to carry most of her own scenes as herself - even if she weren't being
played by Hoffman. "Tootsie" works as a story, not as a gimmick.
It also works as a lot of other things. "Tootsie" is
the kind of Movie with a capital M that they used to make in the 1940s, when
they weren't afraid to mix up absurdity with seriousness, social comment with
farce, and a little heartfelt tenderness right in there with the laughs. This
movie gets you coming and going.
stars as Michael Dorsey, a character maybe not unlike Hoffman himself in his
younger days. Michael is a New York actor, bright, aggressive, talented - and
unemployable. "You mean nobody in New York wants to hire me?" he asks
his agent, incredulously. "I'd go farther than that, Michael," his
agent says. "Nobody in Hollywood wants to hire you, either."
has a bad reputation for taking stands, throwing tantrums, and interpreting
roles differently than the director. How to get work? He goes with a friend
(Teri Garr) to an audition for a soap opera. The character is a middle-age
woman hospital administrator. When his friend doesn't get the job, Michael goes
home, thinks, decides to dare, and dresses up in drag and goes to an audition
himself. And, improvising brilliantly, he gets the role.
leads to "Tootsie's" central question: Can a 40-ish New York actor
find health, happiness and romance as a 40-ish New York actress? Dustin Hoffman
is actually fairly plausible as "Dorothy," the actress. If his voice
isn't quite right, a Southern accent allows it to squeak by. The wig and the
glasses are a little too much, true, but in an uncanny way the woman played by
Hoffman looks like certain actual women who look like drag queens. Dorothy
might have trouble passing in Evanston, but in Manhattan, nobody gives her a
might have been content to limit itself to the complications of New York life
in drag; it could have been "Victor/Victoria Visits Elaine's." But
the movie's a little more ambitious than that. Michael Dorsey finds to his
interest and amusement that Dorothy begins to take on a life of her own. She's
a liberated eccentric, a woman who seems sort of odd and funny at first, but
grows on you and wins your admiration by standing up for what's right.
of the things that bothers Dorothy is the way the soap opera's chauvinist
director (Dabney Coleman) mistreats and insults the attractive young actress
(Jessica Lange) who plays Julie, a nurse on the show. Dorothy and Julie become
friends and finally close confidants. Dorothy's problem, however, is that the
man inside her is gradually growing uncontrollably in love with Julie.
are other complications. Julie's father (Charles Durning), a gruff, friendly,
no-nonsense sort, lonely but sweet, falls in love with Dorothy. Michael hardly
knows how to deal with all of this, and his roommate (Bill Murray) isn't much
help. Surveying Dorothy in one of her new outfits, he observes drily,
"Don't play hard to get."
has a lot of fun with its plot complications; we get almost every possible
variation on the theme of mistaken sexual identities. The movie also manages to
make some lighthearted but well-aimed observations about sexism. It also pokes
satirical fun at soap operas, New York show business agents and the Manhattan
social pecking order. And it turns out to be a touching love story, after all -
so touching that you may be surprised how moved you are at the conclusion of