The characters in Tootsie seem invented rather than real: instead of having a life of their own, they exist for the purpose of pumping a plot along. That would have been perfectly acceptable as standard farce, had the moviemakers not so obviously wanted the characters to be real and touching and have them point a moral to the story. Despite Dustin Hoffman’s sweetly accomplished performance, the main character, Michael Dorsey, an out-ofwork New York actor, is written bloodlessly. Told by his agent (played with relish by director Sydney Pollack) that he is virtually unemployable because of his difficult nature, Michael, just turned 39, decides that a new identity might be a dramatic solution to his dilemma.
Michael’s decision is clearly a snap one: the next shot of him is on the street in a dress as Dorothy Michaels. Such decisions are not taken as lightly as this movie would imply: the motivation is purely to move the story along. Similarly, when his friend of six years (Teri Garr) catches him in his underwear in her bedroom (he is about to try on one of her dresses, unaccountably), he explains his state of undress by saying he wants to go to bed with her, and does. Those who believe the dramatic rationale behind that scene will believe anything.
The fact that Michael goes to bed with his best friend carries the same weight as scenes of him putting on nail polish and false eyelashes; they are techniques that complicate a farcical situation. While Tootsie is competent and produces some titters, it is extraordinarily predictable. Michael’s roommate, for example, exists solely to make sardonic remarks—and who better than Bill Murray to play a nonperson? When the demure Dorothy, with her peachfuzz southern accent, gets a part on a popular soap opera, she-he turns hardnosed, telling off the director (Dabney Coleman, again as a male chauvinist pig) for calling her “honey,” “sweetie,” “tootsie” and the like. That change in attitude seems to be a sop for the enlightened women in the audience. To complicate matters, she-he falls in love with a costar (Jessica Lange) whose father (Charles Durning) falls for herhim. Even the leading man falls for Dorothy. This is known as gilding the lily.
Tootsie is a fits-and-starts farce which has the effrontery to throw in a moral at the end: men can become better by getting in touch with the feminine aspects of themselves. Michael’s realization of precisely that is arrived at as quickly and as seemingly arbitrarily as the decision to masquerade in drag. Little in the movie seems felt. If it were not for Hoffman’s performance as foxyhaired Dorothy, with big glasses and birdlike steps, Tootsie might have left a stale taste in the mouth. Instead, it is a safe, slickly produced piece for pop consumption, which, like any tootsie, is good for a few laughs.
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