July 23, 2011

Queer Review: Tootsie (1982)

Director: Sydney Pollack
Writers: Don McGuire, Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, Robert Garland, Barry Levinson, and Elaine May.
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, Teri Garr, Sydney Pollack

Since it was released in 1982, Tootsie has recieved many critical accolades. However, after viewing it, I am going to have to be the sour grape in the fruit bunch that will argue Tootsie has been remarkably overpraised. Dustin Hoffman gives a memorable performance but ultimately, his work is not enough to elevate the movie beyond the trite and mediocre material that the rest of the story is composed of.

Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is a method actor whose methods have given him a reputation for being difficult to work with. After a meeting with his agent (Sydney Pollack) he decides to take a chance and try out for a role as a female administrator in a popular soap opera. To accomplish this, he creates Dorothy Michaels, a strong southern woman who refuses to take any crap from men. When Dorothy is cast, she ends up becoming a popular role model with woman across the country. This success however, is really a curse for Michael, who does not wish to live the rest of his life as a woman and he finds himself increasingly desperate to figure out a way the end the charade.

The Queering
Hollywood has a history of releasing similarly themed films close together. Recently, there were those two Friends With Benefits who wanted sexual relationships With No Strings Attached. In the summer of 1998, asteroids threaten the Earth movies hit theaters twice in the form of Deep Impact and Armageddon. In 1982, there were two crossdressing movies released, Victor Victoria and Tootsie.

In any case, I think it is most unfortunate that there exist only a few films that depict genuine transgender/transsexual characters on film. Films like Transamerica that depict actual transgender/transsexual characters, are outnumbered greatly by the likes of Some Like It Hot, Victor Victoria, as well as Tootsie, where male and female characters engage in cross dressing for practical reasons, rather then because of internal desires. In Some Like It Hot the main characters were trying to avoid being killed by the mob. In Victor Victoria and Tootsie the crossdressing is done so the characters can land a job.

The main issue I have with Tootsie is that it not only contains very little queer content, but that it also really is little more then a standard order romantic comedy with the crossdressing element thrown in to add a little flavor to an otherwise bland dish. As I already mentioned, Dennis Hoffman's performance (or should that be performances?) elevates the material. In fact there quite a few nice performances to be found here. Bill Murray has some humorous dead-pan moments and Jessica Lange makes for a nice romantic foil for Dustin Hoffman.

Furthermore, there is some genuinely funny material here and the dialogue is fairly witty at times, although I should point out there are long stretches where nothing happens. There are also a few too many scenes where the characters do little more then sit around and talk about there feelings. Also, I believe that the audience was intended to find the sight of Dustin Hoffman in a dress hysterical, but I find the notion of drag automatically being funny to be disrespectful to the trans community.

Now while the main theme of Tootsie is one of female empowerment, I could not help but notice another message being sent. Since Michael is really a man who manages to help solve the problems of several female characters, Tootsie ends up subtly reinforcing notions of male superiority. It was not, I believe, the intention of the filmmakers to do that, but none the less, such an interpretation is possible given what is on the screen.

While we are on the subject of those intentions, I believe that the filmmakers really believed that they were making a genuinely progressive film. Now maybe for the decade of the 80's it was. Modern audiences however will likely find the underlying themes of Tootsie to be either trite or dated.

For those with any interest in the history of queer cinema and/or a strong tolerance for a comedy with long stretches where nothing funny happens, Dustin Hoffman's performance makes this worth seeking out.

The Rating


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1 comment:

  1. the drink thrown in his face. love that part. most women do that to me you know.


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