Nov 20, 2009

[Movies] Tootsie (1982)

TootsieWhether we like it or not, there are certain stereotypes that we've all come to accept in terms of mainstream Hollywood cinema. We know exactly the kind of stupid things action heroes do time after time after time, we instinctively react to the incidental mood music in romantic pieces and so on and so forth.

At the same time, there are those somewhat negative stereotypes that have managed to survive over the years. Gay characters are meant to be flighty, loud and shallow. A woman's cup size is bound to draw more ticket sales than an actually compelling plot. Remakes are cheap, safe ways of making money in movies. Cross-dressing is just a device for comic relief.

But it wasn't always like this. There are those movies out there that try to challenge the norms and present alternate views, whether or not the film is meant to be a drama or a comedy. Just because we're laughing doesn't mean the movie makers don't have a point they want to convey.

One lazy afternoon, I finally managed to catch Tootsie on HBO after wanting to see the movie for years but never getting around to it for some reason. The movie is about a struggling actor named Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) who is very talented but not exactly easy to cast anymore. As much as his peers recognize his talent, they also know he's a bit of a pain to work with given his rather perfectionist work ethic.

So when an opening for a soap opera comes along, on a whim he decides to cross-dress as a woman to see if he stood a better chance of getting the part that way. Lo and behold, "Dorothy Michaels" (his female persona) actually wins the role and starts to gain a following among viewers. So he now has his new-found fame to juggle along with his growing romantic feelings for one of his co-stars (Jessica Lange) and how he tries to keep all this a secret for long.

Dustin HoffmanImage via Wikipedia

Now take note of the year ladies and gentlemen - this actually pre-dates more popular cross-dressing comedies like Mrs. Doubtfire. But it's not really a laugh-your-insides-out kind of comedy. It has a comedic premise and a few humorous moments but overall it carries itself as well as any other more "serious" drama. The struggles of Michael Dorsey as an actor are all too real and his resorting to creating Dorothy Michaels is truly an act of desperation gone wrong.

I realized that I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected to. I mean come on, who would have thought that Dustin Hoffman could play such a believable woman without appearing too much like the over-the-top performance managed by Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. This was truly him straight playing a woman as best as any man could and it just works. You feel his pain and you truly want to empathize with him but then there's also the outrage at his supposed success despite lying about his true identity.

There's a lot more to this movie that it originally seems to be and one reallyneeds to give it a full viewing to truly appreciate it. Plus Jessica Lange did win the Oscar for her performance here while the movie was nominated in many other categories at the same time.

Tootsie is a refreshing look at the actor's life and treats cross-dressing as a means to an end and not just a comedic gimmick. Given all this, Tootise deserves a full 4 acting clinics out of a possible 5.

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