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By Brad Laidman | August 1, 2001

One of the funniest things I have ever seen was Dustin Hoffman weeping uncontrollably as he recounted how he never truly understood the inner pain and torment of what it felt like to be an ugly woman until he made “Tootsie.” I wouldn’t trade that thirty seconds for the entire film. “Tootsie” is funny enough and Hoffman truly does make an scary awe inspiring wreck of a woman, but people would have you believe this film was the Rosetta Stone of comedy, whereas it’s really just an ok film dominated by television actors and desperately lucky to have caught Bill Murray on a free afternoon.
Hoffman plays Michæl Dorsey, a pretentious loudmouth of an actor who’s know it all personality has shut every door that otherwise would have been open to a actor of his talents. When his agent tells him that there is no one left on either coast willing to hire him, he puts on a dress and wins a part on a soap opera as Dorothy Michæls. The odd thing about Tootsie is that it wants you to believe that acting is the greatest and most noble craft in the world, and yet for some reason it features Teri Garr playing Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman playing Dabney Coleman, and for that matter even Bill Murray pretty much plays Bill Murray. Hoffman, though is actually pretty damn funny, as the headstrong opinionated caricature of Dustin Hoffman in a number of well written and tautly barbed scenes with Director Sydney Pollack as his frustrated agent.
“Tootsie” would have you believe that Hoffman’s bravado when transplanted into a woman makes for stellar success story, a truly modern woman, who won’t be hit on, dismissed, or condescended to by the powers that be, which pretty much means Coleman as the soap’s director. If a woman really acted like this she wouldn’t be lauded, she’d be written down the elevator shaft like Joey on Friends, but it is kind of cool how Hoffman gets a strong female presence on the screen and still gets to play the part and garner all the adulation. Jonathan Silverman played pretty much the same role in Little Sister and nobody thought he was a genius.
Additionally, we’re supposed to believe that being in the shoes of a woman makes Hoffman a better and more caring man. Meanwhile, he treats Teri Garr like garbage, leads on Charles Durning, and chases after the hottest piece of a*s on the set. Shouldn’t someone transformed by the experience of living in the shoes of an unattractive woman wind up in a communal living situation with Star Jones, Oprah, and Roseanne?
Someone should have to pay for all the time I spent listening to awful musical played over painful montages of Hoffman’s Dorothy Michæl lit through gauze as if she were Lauren Bacall, the worst of which culminates in a triptych of our hero/heroine decked out in a red beaded evening gown in front of the American Flag. Of course through his lying and deceit, Dorsey winds up the toast of the town, and probably even gets the girl. Wouldn’t it be great if someone made a film about deception that ending with a pained cry of violent horror instead of a tearful sob of regret and understanding?
On the plus side Geena Davis makes her film debut running around in just a bra and panties, and Jessica Lange does a pretty good job of evoking the hard drinking, depressed, and vulnerable Marilyn Monroe from Some Like It Hot, but don’t kid yourself she won a best supporting actress Oscar for this role as a consolation prize for her great performance as Frances Fisher, which was passed over in favor of Meryl Streep in that years best actress category. Larry King and Gene Shalit probably think Larry Gelbart is a great humanitarian for bringing this script before the eyes of the world, but that doesn’t make it or the last few years of MASH any less preachy.

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