Sydney Pollack’s hugely enjoyable 1982 comedy Tootsie gets a fantastic Criterion Blu-ray release this week. The film stars Dustin Hoffman, on sensational form as Michael Dorsey, a talented but pretentious actor, whose reputation on both Broadway and in Hollywood is so toxic, no one will hire him. He’s the type of actor who gets fired from a job playing a tomato in a vegetable commercial because he refuses to sit down on the basis that it isn’t logical. Essentially, he’s a bit of jerk.
He helps his friend Sandy (Teri Garr) prepare for an audition for a part in a soap opera, and when she doesn’t get it, he decides to dress up as a woman and go for the role himself. As you do. Now adopting the persona of the sweet but tough Dorothy Michaels, he gets the part.
The film plays much of this for laughs, and it is indeed very funny. Bill Murray as Michael’s confused but understanding roommate is hilarious. And when Michael falls in love with one his female co-stars, played by the fantastic Jessica Lange, it causes all manner of amusing complications. But there’s a lot more going on here than just a cross-dressing comedy. If that’s what you’re after, go and watch Mrs. Doubtfire.
Tootsie is so much more than that. The script is full of wit and insight, and asks important questions about gender, power, masculinity, and the roles we are expected to take, or worse, have forced upon us. Whether that is as actors, or as women.
Michael encounters all kinds of casual sexism, workplace misogyny and male entitlement when he is dressed as Dorothy. The film handles this extremely well, and despite a few missteps, it adds a great deal to the discussion of sexual equality. That Tootsie manages to touch on such serious matters, and still balance this with the absurd comedy of what Michael is doing, without ever slipping into farce, which it could so easily have done, is a remarkable achievement.
The disc is packed with fantastic extras, as we’ve become accustomed to with Criterion. We have a director’s commentary recorded by Sydney Pollack for Criterion in 1991. There are interviews with Dustin Hoffman and comedy writer Phil Rosenthal. There is also a 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary from 1981. As well as this we also have an hour-long film directed by Charles Kiselyak in 2007 about the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast, the writers and director Sydney Pollack. The disc also includes nine deleted scenes, screen and wardrobe tests and the original trailers.
This review first appeared on Entertainment Focus