On watching the beloved 1982 comedy "Tootsie" for the first time.
There's a scene, well several scenes, but one in particular in Sydney Pollack's 1982 comedy "Tootsie" that seems borne out of the collective dream of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. It feels as at home here THIRTY-SIX years later as it probably didn't then.
Early on, Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy Michaels, the new sensation of a soap, or "daytime drama" if you will, tells off the show's slimy, womanizing director Ron (Dabney Coleman) that she is sick of being just another "honey" or "baby" or "toots" or "tootsie" or what have you. This comes after another scene where she, on her first day as a woman, thrashes back at the show's female producer for not immediately defending her when the director makes a crack about power and female masculinity.
Honestly, this is the film's most solid central idea, which is otherwise solidly of its time, and it enlightened and surprised me. It made the experience all the more richer. I couldn't have expected it.
Hoffman plays two characters in this film and is billed as such. That would be a gimmick if it wasn't actually the case. He is first the pedantic blowhard of an act-or Michael Dorsey, who hasn't worked in months because he argues with every director who casts him. His agent George (Sydney Pollack) won't even put him up for any parts because he just pisses everybody off. He also won't help him bankroll a play written by his roommate Jeff (Bill Murray). When his best friend, the struggling actress Sandy (Teri Garr) loses out on a soap opera role, an idea comes together, and, for most of the picture he is Dorothy, a one-of-a-kind, the total package, a woman with the balls, like SO MANY women today, to flip the script and go full feminist when clearly most actresses of the time wouldn't dare. She becomes an inspiration.
Of course, classically ironic situations ensue and some of the plot becomes inevitable. He falls for his beautiful co-star, the single mother in a bad relationship with the director, Julie (Supporting Actress Oscar winner Jessica Lange). Meanwhile, in hiding his new identity from Sandy, he covers a blunder and ends up in bed with her instead, complicating his juggling act of being a woman falling for a woman and worrying about messing up his friendship with his best friend, now lover, a woman.
The lack of Michael's early understanding is perfectly written and played in the film's best scene in which Dorothy crashes his agent's lunch at the Russian Tea Room. Breaking character to become Michael in voice alone, he gloats about how he's done it, he has gotten a gig, a totally macho power play of a move. Hoffman and Pollack together is screenwriting and acting gold. (How wonderful that Hoffman got Pollack to perform in the film. He is so good.) By the end, they have met again, in another hilarious and timely scene, this time with Hoffman as Michael begging to get out of the contract, understanding the pain he may ultimately leave in his wake the longer he keeps up the act.
"Tootsie" is timely because it is more proof that women can turn the table on an industry that belittles them and a world that, as the Durning character makes clear, sees woman as different, if not inferior or unequal. It does this by showing us a man capable of understanding women. So few of us are. That was the problem then. That is the problem now. Maybe we should all dress the part someday and see how long it takes us to decide that it's too damn hard to even fathom.