#179) Tootsie (1982)


#179) Tootsie (1982)

OR “Dope on a Soap”

Directed by Sydney Pollack

Written by Larry Gelbart & Murray Schisgal. Story by Gelbart and Don McGuire (WGA credits. Who the hell really knows?)

Class of 1998

The Plot: Notoriously difficult actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) has run out of work in New York. When his friend Sandy (Teri Garr) gets passed up for a role in a daytime drama, Michael, having nothing to lose professionally, dresses up as a woman (Dorothy Michaels) and auditions for the part himself. Dorothy’s outspokenness lands her the role, and she becomes an overnight TV feminist icon. Along the way, Michael falls for his co-star Julie (Jessica Lange), butts heads with chauvinistic director Ron (Dabney Coleman), and receives some unexpected attention from Julie’s widowed father Les (Charles Durning). As Dorothy, Michael sees how the other half lives, and becomes a better man for it.

Why It Matters: There’s no justification as to why “Tootsie” is on the list; just a plot synopsis and cast list. A more loving essay by author Brian Scott Mednick calls the film “the best comedy of the 1980s”.

But Does It Really?: “Tootsie” is one of my favorites, but I wanted to see if the recent stories about Dustin Hoffman tarnish my viewing. I still enjoyed myself, albeit with some reservations. Parts of that are the Hoffman allegations, but another part is the film’s stance on the sexes that is slowly becoming more conservative. Regardless, I still laughed a lot this time out. Maybe I’m too close to be objective, but I still think “Tootsie” is one of the finest comedies ever made. I do not condone any of the things Hoffman said or did to those women (And of course I believe them), but to take it out on this film would be to ignore Sydney Pollack’s pitch-perfect direction, a script by so many writers it has no right to be this brilliantly structured, and an ensemble that cannot be topped. Perhaps despite my better judgment, I still love this movie, but only time will tell if it will maintain its status as a classic.

Everybody Gets One: This is director Sydney Pollack’s only film on the list. Also singled out are Dabney Coleman, George Gaynes, the screenwriters, and of course, Gene Shalit.

Wow, That’s Dated: There are the standards, like analog TV, answering machines, and Love Canal. But my main takeaway with this viewing was the film’s thoughts on gender relationships, which are starting to age poorly. I wonder how all of this will hold up in another 35 years.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Tootsie” is one of the few flat-out comedies to have a strong showing at the Oscars. The film’s 10 nominations trailed just behind the 11 for “Gandhi”, which beat “Tootsie” in almost every category, including Picture, Director, Actor, and Original Screenplay. “Tootsie” only managed one win: Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Lange. There’s nothing wrong with Lange’s performance, it’s just odd that the Oscar-winning actor in a comedy is the “straight-man”. This win had more to do with Lange also being nominated for her lead performance in “Frances” the same year, and the Oscar being a win for both performances.

Other notes

  • Like “Jaws”, “Tootsie” is one of those movies where the title has become the pop-culture shorthand for the main character, even though that’s not their name.
  • As an occasional actor, I am here to tell you that the first five minutes of this film are pretty frickin’ accurate.
  • Teri Garr is a gift from the comedy gods. Thank you Teri, and thank you uncredited writer Elaine May.
  • “Tootsie” recognizes that the secret ingredient to film comedy is editing. The writing and acting can be solid, but if you can’t get that rhythm down in the editing, you’re sunk.
  • Recent scandal aside, Dustin Hoffman is giving a great performance. I can watch him without cringing too much mainly because he makes Dorothy Michaels as complex and interesting as Michael Dorsey.
  • This is the third in what I call the “Smarmy Dabney Coleman Trilogy”. Parts One and Two are, respectively, “9 to 5” and “On Golden Pond”. Surprisingly, neither of those is on the NFR yet.
  • Where’s this film’s Best Makeup nomination? There were only two nominees that year. Come on!
  • I’m imagining young Geena Davis on her first big film set, spending most of her screentime in her underwear, thinking, “Yeah, I need to start some sort of Gender Representation in Media Institute.”
  • I never realized how many montages this movie has. There’s your drinking game.
  • You may notice framed photos of the same woman throughout Michael’s apartment (and on Emily Kimberly’s desk). That’s Lillian Hoffman, Dustin’s mother, who passed away during production of “Tootsie”.
  • I love movies where they say what decade it is. “Don’t you find being a woman in the ‘80s complicated?”
  • Bill Murray is always the perfect offbeat fit for your movie.
  • Charles Durning somehow gets away with doing some physical shtick in his scenes, but he’s super endearing so who cares? The only reason Durning didn’t get an Oscar nod is because he was already nominated for… “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”?
  • Les says he and his wife were married “a lot of years”, but Julie says she “[doesn’t] remember her very well.” Huh?
  • The film transitions from humorous observations to farce quickly but effectively. It’s always a good sign when a comedy’s structure can make you laugh.
  • Michael has a poster of Laurence Olivier’s “The Entertainer” in his bedroom. Really? Not “Marathon Man”?
  • The climax is a comedic opera unto itself, and has two of my favorite lines in rapid succession: “That is one nutty hospital” and “Does Jeff know?”
  • Funny to think that the guy gently singing “It Might Be You” over the credits is the same guy who sang “Animal House”.


  • Jessica Lange was already famous, but “Tootsie” (and “Frances”) is when her acting started to be taken seriously.
  • This is the movie that gave us Sydney Pollack: Character Actor. He is best remembered as Will’s dad on “Will & Grace”.
  • It looks like the musical version of “Tootsie” is finally happening. The stage version should make it to Broadway in 2019 with a score by David Yazbeck, who apparently just writes musicals based on films.
  • “Tootsie” influenced the 1984 Turkish remake “Sabaniye” and the 2016 Indian Tamil film “Remo”.
  • And Dustin Hoffman learned a profound lesson about being a woman thanks to this film, and never said or did anything deplorable towards women ever again.

4 thoughts on “#179) Tootsie (1982)”

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