anwhiterussian’s review published on Letterboxd:
HERE SHE COMES!!!
What a fucking ballsy movie.
For a movie that’s almost 40 years old, it’s hard to believe that the studio allowed such commentary through a large budget picture. Even today where some people are repulsed at the thought of a man dressing as a woman, Tootsie is able to say a lot about the treatment of women and how these awkward/funny situations of a man disguised as a woman would actually be shocking and scary if an actual woman were placed in them.
Off the top, this is such a great and well-written script. The little one liners and dialogue overall is so good, with the Hoffman/Pollack bickering scenes topping them all. It lures itself into tropes and defies them - sure it’s a lot easier with Dorothy/Michael but it’s still pulled off really well. They’re allowed to get away with cheesy because it becomes hilarious when it’s Hoffman playing a woman and it’s still compelling seeing a fake woman empowering other women, sticking up for others unable to stick up for themselves and setting a role model in a world where women aren’t allowed to be anything other than objects - especially not objects who speak their mind. It’s not funny just because he’s in a dress. Michael and Dorothy are two fully realized characters, who contrast and highlight this duality.
Although it is hilarious at parts, it really isn’t a comedy, at least not when it comes to Hoffman’s portrayal of the character. Being Dorothy is never a joke to him, it’s never used as a tool to belittle women or make a mockery of the situation Dorsey finds himself further and further in. It opens his eyes of what it’s like being a woman, being a woman in entertainment, being an older, unattractive woman in entertainment where she’s initially treated more as a prop than anything. It shows him how little is thought of women and the general lack of respect and objectivism that holds them back. Of course Dorothy/Michael are placed in uncomfortable situations and these bring levity, but show how disgusting and terrifying it would be if it wasn’t Michael in that wig. Of course the other characters still objectify and mock Dorothy, but they’re used to further that objectivism while maintaining an overall comedic tone.
But the real sadness is that all of this treatment and objectification and Dorothy’s standing up for herself and the example she sets for others still isn’t enough to make Michael a good person again. The true irony in the film is that everything he’s standing up for to his other female castmates - mainly not being treated like shit - he continues to do to Sandy, and to a lesser extent, Julie. He manipulates and marginalizes Sandy, entertaining her so that he doesn’t have to be honest with her - he could tell her any excuse to get her to leave but can’t bring himself to do it. He pursues Julie and lies to her for the entire film. This duality brought to Hoffman’s character brings a deeper element and elevates the film to more than “hey look it’s a guy in a dress”.
Some might argue that the film doesn’t go far enough in it’s criticism and support for women is ill-represented or that its usage of a man in dress is homophobic/transphobic. It was 1982 and we have the benefit of hindsight. At the time, most portrayals of men as women are as a joke, transvestism, or mental illness or a combination. Sure some of the elements of feminism haven’t aged the best, but the situations and overall rampant sexism that occur in the film are still as salient as ever. It takes some serious nuance to be able to convince the studio to release this film while riding the fine line of criticism and mockery. Bill Murray and Teri Garr smash it. George Gaynes as the skeevy Van Horne is incredible. The only thing that doesn’t carry is the typical ‘80s soundtrack - it’s actually tragic.
If you watch Tootsie for anything, watch it for Dustin Hoffman. It’s such a whole-hearted and passionate portrayal of a character. His scenes as Dorothy are so well performed that it’s incredibly easy to forget that it’s actually Hoffman. Between the script and Dorothy, the film effortless glides all the way to the climicatic monologue.
Smart, sad, heartwarming, and simply hilarious, you can’t deny Tootsie.