J.D. Lafrance
Tootsie: Criterion Collection DVD Review

Tootsie: Criterion Collection

February 24, 2015

Director: Sydney Pollack,
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Geena Davis, Bill Murray, Sydney Pollack,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

When it was released, Tootsie (1982) was a commercial and critical hit that poked fun at the women’s liberation movement as an actor struggled to find roles and out of frustration he began dressing up as a woman in order to get a job. In retrospect, the film was a rebuttal to films like Baby Boom (1987) and Working Girl (1988) that championed women succeeding in the workplace with its protagonist getting in touch with his feminine side only to learn how discriminated the opposite sex is in our society.

Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is a character actor trying to find work in New York City. To pay the bills, he teaches acting and waits tables along with his roommate Jeff Slater (Murray), a bitter, struggling playwright. Michael’s agent (Pollack) lays it out for him – no one will hire the actor because he has a reputation for being difficult. So, Michael utilizes his chameleon-like skills and becomes “Dorothy Michaels,” a southern actress. He tries for and gets a part on the day-time soap opera Southwest General, becoming a break-out star. Complications arise when Michael finds himself attracted to Julie Nichols (Lange), one of his co-stars and who is also involved with the show’s director (Coleman).

Men in drag is one of comedy’s oldest conventions and Tootsie doesn’t play it too broadly like Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), mixing drama with comedy as Dustin Hoffman plays it as real as possible. Michael’s adoption of the Dorothy Michaels persona is born out of frustration and a desire to fund Jeff’s play, but the more successful his stint on the soap opera is the more he enjoys it, especially the time he spends with Julie. Hoffman maintains a tricky balancing act, eliciting our sympathy as a working actor trying to redeem himself while also continuing his ruse as Dorothy.

Bill Murray is excellent as Michael’s unflappable roommate. His trademark dry wit is used in a wonderfully understated way, hinting at the dramatic chops he would show later on in his career in films like Rushmore (1998) and Lost in Translation (2003). His deadpan reactions to some of Hoffman’s more outrageous ideas or notions are priceless.

1980s mainstays Teri Garr and Jessica Lange are quite good as the women in Michael’s life. Garr plays one of his students and lover, but he’s more interested in helping her career than the actress. Lange plays Michael’s talented co-star and friend of his Dorothy persona, much to his frustration as he finds himself very attracted to her and unable to do anything about it lest he expose his deception.

Director Sydney Pollack brings his versatile touch to the film as he wisely opts not to go the wacky route, but fuse comedy and drama together seamlessly. He keeps Tootsie grounded, refusing to veer into sitcom territory as would normally be the temptation. The film turns sexual politics on its head as Michael witnesses first hand how women are treated in the workplace while also being confronted by men like Julie’s father (Durning) who has rather antiquated views of men and women. The film’s conclusion lets Michael’s deception off the hook with little serious repercussions and resolves itself a little too neatly, but Tootsie is still one of the better comedy/drama hybrids to come out of the ‘80s.

Special Features:

Tootsie has never looked better with a superb Blu-Ray transfer that shows fantastic detail, restores the filmic qualities and looks as good as I’m sure it did on opening night.

Ported over from the Criterion Collection’s 1991 laserdisc is an audio commentary by director Sydney Pollack in which he provides thoughtful observations about the film.

Also included are three trailers for Tootsie.

There are nine deleted scenes that run 11 minutes. They are interesting to watch, especially for fans of the film, but were rightly cut.

“Screen and Wardrobe Tests” features fascinating archival footage of Hoffman from 1980 when Hal Ashby was the director. This extra offers a brief, tantalizing glimpse at what his vision might have been.

“A Better Man: The Making of Tootsie” is a retrospective documentary from 2007 that features interviews with Hoffman, Pollack, Garr, Lange and others. It takes us from the screenplay to Pollack’s apprehension with the premise to how Hoffman transformed himself into Dorothy. This is very well done with lots of anecdotal information.

“The Making of Tootsie” is a making of documentary made during the production. It offers intriguing behind the scenes footage of Pollack working with Hoffman and the filming of key scenes.

There is a new interview with Hoffman where he reflects, at times, quite emotionally, about making Tootsie.

Also included is a new interview with writer/producer/actor Phil Rosenthal who talks about his experiences on the film.

Finally, there is unused footage of T.V. film critic Gene Shalit interviewing Dorothy Michaels, which is fun to watch.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 97%

Website: http://www.criterion.com/films/28609-tootsie


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