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Revisiting Tootsie


Franko

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I re-watched the film last weekend and wrote about it for the What's on Tonight channel, a spinoff of the AV Club. I do that, write about films from certain years. This year was 1982, next year will be 1993. I hope nobody minds my ego trip by sharing this, but well, it *is* soap related.

 

“Ron? I have a name. It's Dorothy. It's not Tootsie or Toots or Sweetie or Honey or Doll.”
“Oh, Christ.”
“No, just Dorothy. Alan's always Alan, Tom's always Tom and John's always John. I have a name too. It's Dorothy, capital D-O-R-O-T-H-Y.”

“They put a man in a dress, and he's supposed to know what it feels like to be a woman. But of course he doesn't. I think what Dustin [Hoffman] says is, ‘I realize now how important it is for a woman to be pretty. And I wasn't pretty.’ God! That's all you realized? Jesus Christ. Oh well. Don't quote me. Actually, quote me.” -- Teri Garr, 2008

Dustin Hoffman was never a feminist, but boy, did he take that reputation to the bank. The dichotomy between Michael Dorsey, an often insufferable actor who grew as a person, and his portrayer Hoffman, an often insufferable actor who apparently hasn’t, threatened to overshadow my most recent viewing of Tootsie, directed by Sydney Pollock and written by many people.

“Look, you don't know me from Adam. But I was a better man with you, as a woman, than I ever was with a woman, as a man. You know what I mean? I just gotta learn to do it without the dress. At this point, there might be an advantage to my wearing pants. The hard part's over, you know? We were already good friends.”

I want to believe those lines. I want to believe Michael’s friendship with Julie (Jessica Lange) would be the cornerstone of any romantic relationship they’d have. I want to believe Michael really did become a better man, although there’s evidence to suggest otherwise.

“There's nothing you can do for me. I just have to feel like this, and you have to know you made me feel this way!”
“Aren't we still friends?”
“No! I don't take this sh*t from friends, only from lovers."
“Wait, what about the play?
“What about it? I should tell you to shove your play. But I won't, because I never allow personal despair to ruin my professional commitments. I am a professional actress! So, are these real chocolate-covered cherries?”
“I think so.”
“(takes them) See you at rehearsal.”

While Hoffman and the romance storyline currently have asterisks attached, Garr’s work as Sandy remains funny and sympathetic. It’s hard to wave away what a sh*t Michael has been to Sandy*, however. Each rewatch also makes me appreciate Lange’s understated and occasionally heartbreaking performance as the quietly overwhelmed Julie. Lange also has one of the funnier bits of business, bobbing her head back as Julie reacts to director boyfriend Ron (Dabney Coleman) giving her the motivation “to get those tubes stuck back up his nose.” Charles Durning is equally first rate as the salt of the earth Les.
*Up until now, I never noticed Sandy has a cello in her apartment. It might belong to a roommate, or be there for decoration, but having her be a working musician could also have provided a logical way to keep Sandy and Michael apart without the constant lying.

“That is one nutty hospital.”

For the most part, time has been kind to the scenes involving Michael as Dorothy as “Emily Kimberly, the new hospital administrator.” There’s a certain retro charm to the idea of an actress emerging out of nowhere** and making a splash. 1982 was also the last year it was possible for a daytime soap star to get the kind of media attention Dorothy did. Susan Lucci doesn’t count -- she had guest appearances and TV movies, plus her Emmy losses, to boost her profile. Dorothy’s fame is entirely from Southwest General.
**It’s not like Dorothy would be the first actress to embellish her resume. In her autobiography, Garr talked about adding things like studying with Geraldine Page at the Long Island Expressway theatre group.

“Maybe your contract has a morals clause. If Dorothy did something filthy or disgusting, they'd let you go. But you've already done everything filthy and disgusting on your show.”

At least five writers, plus Bill Murray and Garr, contributed to Tootsie. I’m normally not a fan of scripts by committee, but Tootsie makes up for it with an impressively high number of funny lines and business. Most are delivered by the film’s excellent ensemble, people like Murray, Coleman, Pollack, Doris Belack, Geena Davis and George Gaynes.

“Does Jeff know?” 

Recommended with reservations.

Thoughts:
-- “Don't play a part that's not in you. Don't say ‘he’ or ‘she’ like you did last week when you were doing Kitty. When you were doing Time Of Your Life. If you can't make the part yourself, you can't play it.” I have to admit, that’s sound acting advice.
-- Box Office: $177.2 million on a $21 million budget, placing this at #2 for 1982. This was a mammoth hit, opening at #1 and staying there for 13 consecutive weekends. It also stayed in theaters for nearly seven months.
-- Critic’s Corner: “(It takes) a wildly improbably situation and found just about all of its comic possibilities, not by exaggerating the obvious, but by treating it with inspired common sense,” Vincent Canby wrote. “Every member of the cast is splendid … Neither (Murray and Garr) has ever appeared to such rich advantage as in Tootsie.” Like Canby, Roger Ebert felt Tootsie transcended its gimmick. “And it turns out to be a touching love story, after all -- so touching that you may be surprised how moved you are at the conclusion of this comedy.”
-- A couple more things about sexual misconduct and attitudes … A, April (Davis) presumably slugged Michael shortly after Julie. B, “I thought that [Sandy] was caught between trying to have a career and trying to be a sexual woman, and it just doesn't work,” Garr continued. “At least it didn't in that movie, because it was made by sexist men. I can say that now, because Sydney [Pollack] isn't with us anymore. (Laughs.) But he was a fine director. … He just wanted the beautiful, blond, cute, shiksa girls to be nice and shut the f*ck up!” C, Garr also revealed Hoffman grabbed her butt at least once during shooting. “I guess he felt he was above the law.”
-- Awards Watch: Tootsie was largely ignored at the Academy Awards, losing to Gandhi in nearly every category both films had nominations. The exception was Best Sound, which went to E.T.. While Gandhi picked up Oscar wins for Best Picture, Actor, Director and Original Screenplay, Tootsie did have Lange’s win for Best Supporting Actress. I'm of the camp that thinks Garr deserved it more. Speaking of the supporting categories, Charles Durning deserved to be nominated for Tootsie rather than The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Also, it is a little surprising that Tootsie didn’t get Oscar nominations for its makeup and costumes. The film did better with the Golden Globes, picking up wins for Best Musical or Comedy, Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actress (Lange again).
-- Musical Moments: This might be a controversial opinion, but I like Dave Grusin’s score, even if it does sound like the theme to a morning show. I also forgot how good “It Might Be You” is. Not good enough to win Best Song at the Oscars, but it matched the quiet intensity of Julie, Michael and Les’ feelings during the farm montage.
-- Just how long did Michael’s charade last? Rita says Dorothy’s contract’s been picked up for another year, while Julie thanks Dorothy for the last several weeks. I’m guessing Dorothy had a 13-week contract, which, again, makes the media blitz seem a tad over the top. On the other hand, it provides Rita, the writers and the network a slightly plausible excuse when they’ll inevitably lie about having planned the whole thing.
-- Some more thoughts about soaps … Assuming the entire Southwest General cast is there for Michael’s reveal, and there’s 20 people at most, I’m guessing it’s a half-hour show; It also appears to air in a lunchtime slot, as The Doctors did in 1982; In what’s widely believed to have been a publicity stunt, Search for Tomorrow aired a live episode in 1983 after the episode’s tape was supposedly lost; Nearly 20 years later, Susan Lucci told TV Guide she didn’t think the film was realistic. She does have a point -- surely the SG wardrobe department would have caught on sooner or later.
-- Today in Comedy: Sid Caesar hoped to do a sketch mashing this with Rocky when he hosted SNL in 1983. Gary Kroeger played Dorothy Michaels in a few SNL sketches, while Martin Short played Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy on SCTV, “blowing up real good.” Meanwhile, Not Necessarily the News spoofed this twice, first with a commercial for “Gandhi Loves Tootsie” and then a report about how it was continuing the trend of dressing like the movies (“... setting the fashion world on its ear while at the same time deeply concerning psychologists everywhere.”). And, of course, Family Guy’s “Go, Stewie, Go!,” whose take on the Russian Tea Room scene is particularly raunchy. “Brian, we both know I touched it. Now if you'd like to keep that just between us, I suggest you sit back down and order me some chicken fingers.”
-- MAD also got into the act with “Tootsie Role.” “I’ve got a real problem, Jiff! I’m in love with Juicy … and I know she likes me! But she thinks I’m a female … and if I tell her the truth, I’m not sure she’ll like me as a man!” “How do you know all this …?” “Call it women’s intuition.” The best jokes came at the end, when Micro was fired when the reveal bored an audience used to taboos, followed by the reveal that Juicy is really Jiff in disguise.
-- Today in Broadway: Evita and A Chorus Line are seen advertised on buses, while a poster for <i>Amadeus</i> is on the wall at the party where an out of drag Michael meets Julie.
-- “I knew there was a reason she didn’t like me!”
 

The best article in that MAD issue was “The Evolution of a TV Situation Comedy,” examining how “Idle Hours” went from a sitcom about three friends in 1946 Indiana to various supporting characters with shows of their own living in 1960s California. There's also a spoof of the directory for college classes, including adult recreational techniques like "emotional involvement with soap operas."
 

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