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.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

That living fossil ate my best friend!

The Meg (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s a good chance that, unless you go in armed with ludicrously high expectations for the degree to which it's going to take the piss out of its premise, you'll have a good time with The Meg. This is unabashedly B-moviemaking, and if a finger of fault can be pointed, it's that director Jon Turteltaub, besides being a strictly functional filmmaker, does nothing to give it any personality beyond employing the services of the Stat. Obviously, though, the mere presence of the gravelly-larynxed one goes a long way to plugging the holes in any leaky vessel.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018)
(SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless Heat rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but Den of Thieves is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.