Thursday, August 29, 2013
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/4/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Directed by Sydney Pollack and written by Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, and Don McGuire with additional contributions from Barry Levinson, Robert Garland, and Elaine May. Tootsie tells the story of Michael Dorsey, an actor who is brilliant but extremely difficult as he tries to raise money for a play he co-wrote. Realizing that no one will hire him after his friend lost a huge part, he decides to play the part in a TV soap opera by dressing as a woman. During this time, he battles a sexist director while falling for one of his co-stars as well as attracting the attention of men. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, George Gaynes, Sydney Pollack, Geena Davis, Doris Belack, and Bill Murray. Tootsie is a brilliant, funny, sweet comedy that shows how a man becomes a better man as a woman.
What happens when a brilliant but difficult actor who can't get work when he decides to dress up as a woman to get a role for a TV soap opera? That is essentially the premise of the film as it is a mixture of comedy and romance where it all centers around the character of Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) who is a very gifted actor but is always difficult as the last job he got was playing a tomato for a commercial. He also helps out other actors where one of his friends in Sandy (Teri Garr) got turned down in an audition to play a role in the daytime soap opera Southwest General where Michael dresses up as a woman to get the part. With only his roommate Jeff Slater (Bill Murray) and his agent George Fields (Sydney Pollack) know the truth, Michael becomes a hit in the show despite having to deal with a sexist TV director (Dabney Coleman) while helping out an aging lead actor (George Gaynes) and falling for one of his co-stars in Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange). Throughout the course of the film, Michael Dorsey not only learns how to be a better man but also find out more about what it means to be a woman.
The film's script is a mix of romance, comedy, and light-hearted drama where it acts as a genre-bender but it is rooted in its comedy genre. What makes this film so brilliant is a funny, witty script that is filled with lot of light-hearted humor and dialogue, improvisation, and characters that audiences can relate to and root for. The script written by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal is truly wonderful in how a brilliant but out-of-work actor is so desperate for work to raise money for his own play. He'll even dress up like a woman to get the role only to fall for a woman while realizing that being a woman makes him a better man in understanding them. The film is also in some strange way, a feminist film as Michael Dorsey makes Dorothy Michaels into a feminist of sorts. Particularly in one scene where she is acting on the TV show to a character playing an abused woman. Michaels' point of view about things makes her into a feminist character who helps women stand up for themselves and such.
While the script works as a part-feminist film with a man playing the feminist, it's still a comedy but also a romantic-comedy in the storyline between Michael/Dorothy and Julie. When Michael is being himself in a scene with Julie, he acts like a jerk but as Dorothy, he acts as her close friend as he gets a sense of understanding in being a woman. This is where Sydney Pollack's direction is at its brilliance in building up the relationship between Michael/Dorothy and Julie while allowing the audience to get to know its supporting characters including Julie's father Les (Charles Durning) who falls for Dorothy. With Pollack's background in television and theater, he explores the world of acting through its different forms. Both TV and theater as the character of Michael uses his skills to play to both mediums. Pollack's presentation of the TV soap format is very realistic in how the director and producer work around everything and how the actors rehearse and read their lines.
The sense of improvisation and looseness is also key to Pollack's direction as he lets the comedy flow naturally while not go way into silly, slapstick humor. Allowing the actors including himself, to say funny lines and be in character while letting the audience feel relaxed and giving them a good time. The result is truly superb as Pollack's direction is truly top-notch and smoothly entertaining.
Cinematographer Owen Roizman does a good job with the film's look with his polished yet colorful camera work to show the style of lighting for TV soaps and such while the shots of the exterior of New York City is wonderful to look at. Editors Fredric and William Steinkamp do an excellent job with the film's pacing and cutting style that is smooth and relaxing to play to the film's unique tone. Production designer Peter S. Larkin and set decorator Thomas C. Tonery do a fantastic job with the looks of the different apartments of Michael and Julie as well as the set designs of the soap opera set they created. Costume designer Ruth Morley and supervisor Bernie Pollack do a fantastic job with the film's costumes. Particularly on the dresses that Dustin Hoffman wears as well as the clothes of the cast for the soap opera.
Sound recordist Phillips Rogers does a fine job with the film's sound including the atmosphere of TV production and such. The film's music by Dave Grusin is bouncy and melodic as it leans towards the sound of soft rock. Yet, Grusin along with noted lyricists Alan & Marilyn Bergman create two memorable songs for the film both sung by Stephen Bishop. The upbeat title song and the love ballad It Might Be You, the latter of which was a hit song that works for the film's light-hearted romantic tone.
The cast assembled by Toni Howard and Lynn Stalmaster is excellent as it features small appearances from the likes of Estelle Getty, Ellen Foley, and Christine Ebersole plus cameo appearances from Andy Warhol and a then-unknown Marg Helgenberger. Memorable small performances from Amy Lawrence as Julie's daughter, Anne Shropshire as Amy's scary nanny, and the late Lynn Thigpen as Carlisle's assistant director. Doris Belack is great as the show's producer Rita Marshall who hires Dorothy on the spot while convinced that the show's success and increased ratings is all due to her. In her film debut, Geena Davis is good as a young actress who first appear in her underwear as she makes Dorothy a bit nervous while being one of the women Ron is having an affair with. George Gaynes is wonderfully funny as an aging actor who is forced to read his line through cue cards and such as Dorothy gives him confidence as he also falls for her. Sydney Pollack is great in his cameo as agent George Fields who has some of the funniest lines as Michael's agent who keeps telling him that no one will work with him.
Dabney Coleman is excellent as the sexist TV director Ron Carlise who likes to sleep around with other women and treat Julie inferior to him as he dukes it out with Dorothy Michaels. Charles Durning is brilliant in his charming role as Julie's father Les who tries to woo Dorothy while showing a softer side as a man longing for love since the death of his wife a long time ago. Teri Garr is great in her role as the insecure Sandy, a struggling actress who has a hard time getting a role only to duped by Michael's own flirtations as she finally gains confidence as an actress. Bill Murray is amazingly funny as Jeff Slater, Michael's laid-back roommate who knows what Michael is doing as Murray has some of the funniest one-liners film with his deadpan delivery that is Murray in classic form. Then there's Jessica Lange in an Oscar-winning performance as Julie Nichols. Lange's understated, graceful performance is a wonderful mix of beauty and depth as a young actress struggling to be a single mom and juggling an unhappy relationship as she gains confidence with help from Dorothy on her life as a woman. Lange, often seen as a pretty face, proves her talents as an actress in which, she wins her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Finally, there's Dustin Hoffman in one of his iconic performances as both Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels. Hoffman's performance as Dorsey is brilliant for someone who is trying to be a total professional and artist who can't catch a break only to understand what women are. Hoffman as Michaels is a character full of charm and attitude as it's a brilliant performance-within-a performance that just knock the walls down. Hoffman is truly amazing from start to finish from the early scene of him acting various characters like an old man to a boy that shows his superb talents as one of cinema' finest actors.
Tootsie is a magnificent film from Sydney Pollack thanks to Dustin Hoffman's incredible leading performance. Along with Jessica Lange's touching supporting performance as well as other memorable performances from Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, and Bill Murray. The film is definitely one of the finest comedies of the genre as well as engaging for the way an actor whose desperation to find work has him getting a better understanding of what it means to be a man by pretending to be a woman. In the end, Tootsie is a spectacular film from Sydney Pollack.
Sydney Pollock Films: (The Slender Thread) - (The Property is Condemned) - (The Scalphunters) - (Castle Keep) - They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - (Jeremiah Johnson) - (The Way We Were) - (The Yakuza) - (Three Days of the Condor) - (Bobby Deerfield) - (The Electric Horseman) - (Absence of Malice) - (Out of Africa) - (Havana) - (The Firm) - (Sabrina (1995 film)) - (Random Hearts) - (The Interpreter) - (Sketches of Frank Gehry) - (Amazing Grace (2018 film))
© thevoid99 2013