Skip to main content

There are no other women like you. You’re a man!

Tootsie
(1982)

(SPOILERS) Tootsie’s that rare hit comedy that almost entirely justifies its high profile, which is probably why it’s that rare hit comedy that was also nominated for Best Picture Oscar. It’s also an ‘80s comedy that stands the test of time – the odds of which are stacked against– even if its askance reactions to both and gender identification and equality (“Don’t you find being a woman in the ‘80s so complicated?”) might now occasionally seem a little antiquated. About the only thing that really shows wear is Dave Grusin’s relentlessly tone-deaf score, but even that Go, Tootsie Go! song – and it’s terrible, let’s make no bones about it – reaches a crescendo of Stockholm Syndrome-esque cheerfulness once it has been impressed on your brain repeatedly.


Sure, you could offer the reactionary reading that Tootsie’s all about a man showing women how to become better, more successful, accomplished, and all-round more complete women, in much the way Tom Cruise later shows the Japanese how to be superior Samurai, but that’s at worst a side effect of it’s enthusiasm for exploring its subject matter to the full. And it’s incredible just how packed with incident and inventiveness the picture is. Tootsie keeps throwing new ideas into play; it probably had enough ideas to justify a movie half as long again. 


It really ought to have been, given the number of contributors to the screenplay (apparently 20 different drafts were sent to the screenwriters’ guild for arbitration). In that broth-spoiling way, invariably the more pens scribbling a piece, the bigger the botched scrawl one should expect; Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal received the final credits, but notables Barry Levinson and Elaine May where also in the mix. Tootsie emerges of-a-piece from such overhauling; it feels finely honed, and never at odds with itself. Much of that is surely down to Sydney Pollack’s deceptively easy hand on the rudder. Particularly deceptively, as Dustin Hoffman reportedly drove him to distraction.


It may not remotely be key to enjoying the film, but there’s no doubt that knowing there’s more than a sliver of Dustin in obsessive, perfectionist actor Michael Dorsey, and more than a slice of Sydney Pollack (who’s hilariously droll) in his put-upon, harassed agent George Fields, adds another layer to what is already a keen juggling act of involved plotting and thematic content. Hoffman even pressed put-upon and harassed Pollack into playing the part (it was earmarked for Dabney Coleman, who winded up with the more typically Coleman role – he’d pretty much essayed it already in 9 to 5 two years earlier – of sexist soap director Ron Carlisle). It’s testament to the heightened rapport between director and star that one of the best scenes isn’t a showy Dorothy moment, but finds Michael divulging the extent of his fraught personal life (lives) to a perplexed George (“He gave you a ring? What did you say?”)


Rita: I’d like you to make her a little more attractive. How far can you pull back?
Cameraman: How do you feel about Cleveland?

Hoffman was reputedly disappointed at being unable to make Dorothy Michaels more attractive, but her frumpy homeliness is absolutely key to her appeal. One of the problems with Mrs Doubtfire is the shroud of prosthetics that removes the fact of Robin Williams from the equation (I know, I know, it was a huge hit). Here, Hoffman is right there, but such is the delirium of his performance you’re transported into the world of Dorothy, or the world of Michael Dorsey fully invested in the world of Dorothy Michaels, fully invested in the world of Emily, her soap character in Southwest General.


Michael’s ultimate pronouncement of how “I was a better man with you, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man” is both brilliant and a little too neat (not nearly as much as the freeze frame arm-around-the-girl wrap-up; Jessica Lange’s Julie is brought around a little too quickly, matters ought to have been more positively open-ended than a fait accompli), but we completely buy into his belief that “I think Dorothy’s smarter than I am” (or, as Robert Downey Jr confusedly professes in Tropic Thunder, regarding his grip on his character, “I know who I am. I’m the dude, playing the dude, disguised as another dude”).


The accordion of relationship dilemmas Michael/Dorothy get him/herself into is the stuff of high farce, from sleeping with long-time acting class protégé Sandy (Teri Garr, sublimely self-doubting and needy) in order to conceal that he’s undressed in her apartment purely to try on her outfits, to leading Julie to think Dorothy’s a lesbian when she makes a pass, to fending off the advances of lecherous aging soap star John Van Horn (George Gaynes, best known for Police Academy, and so peerlessly baffled he’d give Frank Drebin a run for his money), to trying not to lead on Julie’s dad Les (Charles Durning), who turns out to be far more understanding than Michael had any right to expect (“Truth is, you were okay company”).


Dorothy: Shame on you, you macho shithead.

It’s undoubtedly the case that Dorothy wins plaudits for foiling men where real women have been unable to, but it’s so gloriously played out – particularly in the case of Van Horn – that it avoids coming across as a backwards lesson in men doing it better. The soap scenes are something else whenever Dorothy goes off-script and has to nudge the incompetent Van Horn – or shove him – in the right direction. And the climactic reveal scene is as breathlessly fizzy as the picture gets.


Tootsie rarely stumbles with its fun, embarrassment or excruciation – the “tips/tits” scene with Geena Davis in her underwear is rather beneath it, since pretty much everything else is aiming higher and hitting its target, but generally Pollack, Hoffman et al keep finding new challenges and boiling imbroglios for Michael and Dorothy to tackle.


And Michael is undoubtedly a jerk until he becomes Dorothy, scouting the room for girls, using the exact same excuse for seeking a relationship with Julie while simultaneously seeing Sandy that Ron later uses for playing away from Julie (it’s another reason why the ending shouldn’t be quite as easily earned as it is; Michael really needs to prove himself beyond the sobering experience, while posing as Dorothy, of being relegated to the dorky best pal who can’t have the girl).


Jeff: Nowadays, when people dream, they don’t dream in their own country any more, and I think it’s SICK.

Throughout this, there’s Bill Murray as Michael’s flatmate Jeff, shamelessly improving and blending in seamlessly with the ensemble. All the while, pure gold is tripping of his tongue (“I’m just afraid you’re going to burn in hell for all this”, “You slut”, and “That is one nutty hospital”). Even he can’t beat Pollack, though, a former actor with an instinct for deadpan naturalism; “God forbid you should lose your standing as a cult failure” he mocks Michael over his actorly scruples, “You were a tomato!” (Dorsey’s failed roles were apparently all based on Hoffman’s own experiences) and “There are no other women like you. You’re a man!


Lange credits Pollack with making Julie special in the editing room, which is very modest of her, particularly as she walked away with the one Oscar (Best Supporting Actress) out of Tootsie’s ten nominations. Hoffman certainly didn’t have easy competition in his category (I’ll hesitate to say who I’d pick for now, except that it wouldn’t be Lemmon). Dave Grusin’s miss, nominated for Best Song (It Might Be You) is less surprising. Only that he got considered in the first place. In fairness to Grusin, his score for The Fabulous Baker Boys at the end of the decade is fabulous. This: really not. 


A number of critics, Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael among them, summoned memories of the finely sprung screwball comedies of the ‘40s when describing the picture, and that’s rather apt. Few comedies were testing Best Picture status at this point, the occasional Woody Allen aside, and Tootsie manages to rise from the mire of being quintessentially ‘80s in form and texture to remain an extremely funny movie.



Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.