The notion of men wearing women's clothes has been a part of comedy for decades. Sometimes it works wonderfully (Some Like it Hot), other times it doesn't (White Chicks), but no matter the results it is a virtually certainty that the genre will continue. Tootsie, one of the best films to utilize this trope, is getting a DVD release in “25th Anniversary” format.
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Teri Garr, and Jessica Lange (among others), the Sydney Pollack film doesn't only go for the cheap laugh, it attempts to garner a deeper understanding of gender relations. It is a comedy that is at turns serious and funny, and almost always successful at both.
In the film, Hoffman is Michael Dorsey, a down-and-out actor who can't seem to land a role. Anytime he does actually succeed in getting a part he ruins it by arguing about his character with the director. After his agent informs him that no one in either New York or Los Angeles wants to work with him, he comes up with a plan — he'll pretend to be a woman and go after parts that way. His alter ego, Dorothy Michaels, quickly succeeds in landing a role on a soap. There he falls for a co-star, Julie Nichols (Lange), but not only does Lange think that Michael is actually Dorothy, Michael has recently entered into a romantic relationship with a long-time friend, Sandy Lester (Garr), who was actually up for the role on the soap he got.
Trying to balance two women and two very separate lives gets more complicated than Michael can handle, but that doesn't stop him from trying to hold it all together. Matters only get worse for Michael when Julie's father, Les (Charles Durning), becomes enamored with Dorothy, and the lead actor on the soap, John Van Horn (George Gaynes), insists on having a kiss scene with all his female costars.
The film builds each storyline wonderfully, finding humor and serious issues among them all. Watching Pollack weave the various threads together and apart, handling the somber with the silly, is truly fantastic. Pollack also appears in a cameo as Michael's agent, George Fields, and almost certainly has the best scenes in the entire film.
The point of the film is that Hoffman's character ends up being “a better man” (a line the film uses) for his having pretended to be a woman and experience sexism. It is the film's clear intent to paint the sexes as equals, and just how difficult life can be for a woman is certainly something Michael learns. However, the film finds many easy laughs in Michael's search for clothing, accessories, and primping. Tootsie certainly doesn't mean to suggest that these are the hardest aspects of being a woman, but there is an interpretation of the film that could lead one in that direction. Taking such a stance would be unfortunate however as it would overlook the film's intentions, which seem nothing but honorable. Good intentions don't completely forgive cheap laughs, but in this case they seem to mitigate them.
The new 25th anniversary edition of the film is available on DVD February 5 and features deleted scenes, a three-part documentary entitled “A Better Man: The Making of Tootsie,” and some wonderful original screen test footage of Hoffman as Dorothy.
With a fantastic cast (which also includes Dabney Coleman, Bill Murrary, and Geena Davis), wonderful wit, and a big heart, Tootsie is every bit as funny now as it was 25 years ago.