Plot: Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is a talented actor to be sure, but his stubborn nature has burned more than a few bridges in his career. It seems that his reputation follows him to all of his auditions, as it has been a while since his last good assignment. His agent has all but given up on Dorsey’s career, but Michael keeps pushing ahead and soon, he will need to find work and as soon as possible. He now finds himself in desperate need of serious cash, which means he has to formulate a plan quick, since he has no chance to gain a role as Michael Dorsey. This is what inspires his most ambitious role ever, as he dons a wig, makeup, and a dress to become Dorothy Michaels, a female performer. His turn works like a charm and soon enough, Dorothy lands a part in a soap opera and becomes a smash success. But when Michael falls in love with his female costar, he is forced to balance his options to choose the right decision, which is going to be hard no matter what in this case. Will Michael choose to keep his new found success, or will he risk it all to chase after his potential true love?
Entertainment Value: Tootsie is a movie that has its heart in the right place and has some great ingredients, but feels much more dated than it should, given how relevant the core narrative remains. The premise is interesting, but requires Mrs. Doubtfire levels of suspension of disbelief, which leads to some unintentional humor when those around Dorothy are oblivious. Dustin Hoffman’s performance is good, if wildly over the top at times, but he isn’t on point enough to make Dorothy believable, regardless of how well intended the script is. The narrative is fine and has some great potential, as how women are treated in show business remains a vital discussion, but the writing here is less than stellar and renders the movie more dated it should be. The social issues are glimpsed at a surface level, but Tootsie never seeks to dig into those problems and is content to make bland jokes, hoping it comes off as social commentary. This half hearted approach to material rich for social satire is why Tootsie has aged so poorly, but the cast is still great and there are some solid laughs here. So while it has lost most of its appeal, it remains a passable slice of 80s cinema.
Although most people likely associate Tootsie with Dustin Hoffman because of his memorable lead performance, his isn’t even close to the best effort in the movie, which belongs to Jessica Lange. She would claim the Best Actress Oscar for her work here and she does shine the brightest, in a skilled and believable performance that plays off Hoffman’s over the top turn quite well. The banter between Hoffman and Lange offers some of the movie’s best moments, but it is clear that Lange’s skill is what carries the movie’s dramatic elements. She is sincere and serious when the material calls for it, but also handles the comedic and romantic threads with ease, while Hoffman weakens when the broad comedic elements aren’t the focus. I still think his performance is solid, but it feels very over the top and almost absurd at times, with little depth and a focus on broad, almost sketch comedy style moments. The cast also includes Sydney Pollack, Bill Murray, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, and Geena Davis.