Hoffman becomes Hoffwoman
"Tootsie" is simply a romantic comedy with the emphasis on comedy, there is no hidden agenda or social message that it is trying to deliver it just wants to be funny and a little romantic. And "Tootsie" works, it works on so many levels from the bountiful humour which comes from Dustin Hoffman dressed as a woman through to the wonderful lampooning of day time soap operas, interweaving both into one joyously simple storyline. As a romantic comedy it isn't really that romantic and won't get you feeling gooey but it is easily one of the best movies when it comes to having a man playing a woman and even now over a quarter of century after it was released "Tootsie" is still simply great.
Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman - The Graduate) is not only an unemployed actor but he is seen as unemployable for being difficult to work with. So in order to get work and fund the play that his flatmate Jeff (Bill Murray - Stripes) is writing Michael decides to dress as a woman and call himself Dorothy Michaels leading him to getting a role on a popular daytime drama. So good is Michael as Dorothy that not only does his character become a huge sensation but he also starts getting male attention from co-star John Van Horn (George Gaynes) and Les (Charles Durning - The Sting), the father of actress Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange - Bonneville). But this makes matters very complicated especially as Michael fancies Julie but can't do anything as she only knows him as Dorothy.
Before "Tootsie" actually gets to the obvious comedy of Dustin Hoffman dressing up as Dorothy it does a brilliant job of putting all the pieces into place from his relationship to an actress called Sandy through to his flatmate Jeff trying to write a play. But most importantly it established Michael as not only an unemployed actor but one who is unemployable because he is so difficult to work with. It's a good start which provides reasoning to why Michael then decides to audition for a day time soap as a woman.
Now as already mentioned one of the best things about "Tootsie" is that it is a comedy and doesn't try to be anything more. And as such that means we have the fun of Dustin Hoffman playing a man who is playing a woman and all the complications which comes with it. In a way it is very obvious that you are going to have Michael finding himself in awkward situations such as sharing a dressing room with an attractive young actress who parades about in her underwear. And it is just as obvious that his masquerading as a woman will lead to romantic complications as he falls for actress Julie Nichols whilst not only does her father Les fall for Dorothy but so does his co-star John Van Horn. But it all works and along with the amusement of the web of lies that Michael has to concoct to keep up his double life it is also amusing that Dorothy ends up getting two suitors.
What also works is the wonderful lampooning of daytime soap operas with Michael dressed as Dorothy getting a job on a fictional hospital drama. The comedy which comes from the cheesy characters, the cheesier dialogue and the poor actors who don't know their lines is just brilliant with George Gaynes stealing many a scene as the terrible John Van Horn. And it is because Dorothy ends up such a hit on the soap that it causes Michael to take drastic action when the studio wants to keep Dorothy on the show, giving us one of the movies funniest scenes.
Now as already mentioned there is plenty of romantic confusion going on and as such "Tootsie" is a romantic comedy. But to be honest the real romance, that of Michael falling for Julie and struggling to deal with it whilst masquerading as Dorothy is more there for laughs than to make you go gushy. In fact it is not until towards the end of "Tootsie" that the romantic side of things really starts to appear and to be honest it's not a strong romance and in fact feels more natural as a friendship.
For a movie which has a surprising amount of recognized actors including Charles Durning, Bill Murray, Dabney Coleman, Jessica Lange and even the likes of Geena Davis and George Gaynes "Tootsie" is really all about Dustin Hoffman. Now where as there have been various movies where a man ends up playing a woman it is often done very obviously yet here Michael and Dorothy are for the most separate characters. As Michael Dustin Hoffman does get across the element of an unemployed actor who is very much a perfectionist yet none of that comes across the minute the talented make up team turn him into Dorothy. Dorothy is very much her own woman, not ugly but then not attractive, old fashioned yet modern in an independent way and works in her own right to the point that you forget you have Dustin Hoffman playing an actor playing a woman.
What this all boils down to is that not only is "Tootsie" one of the best movies when it comes to having a man playing a woman it is still as good as ever even after a quarter of a century since it's release. It works because it doesn't try to be anything more than funny and achieves it through the obvious humour of Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy but also the lampooning of daytime soap operas. And it is Dustin Hoffman who makes "Tootsie" as good as it is making his character Michael and Dorothy two individuals making us forget that we have Hoffman playing an actor playing a woman.