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DVD: Tootsie | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Tootsie

DVD: Tootsie

Dustin Hoffman dresses as a woman to become a better man in a lovingly crafted screwball comedy

A woman's world: Dustin Hoffman's Michael gets a fresh perspective in 'Tootsie'.Criterion Collection

It’s fascinating to revisit Tootsie, some 30 years after its original success – in 1982 it was the biggest comedy hit of all time (though it was overtaken by Ghostbusters shortly after). Dustin Hoffman gives a pitch-perfect performance as an overly serious East Coast theatre actor who takes to cross-dressing when his agent (played by the film's director Sydney Pollack) can no longer get him work. He "passes" as a frumpy middle-aged actress and wins a part in a terrible daytime soap playing a feisty feminist. He falls in love with its star, Jessica Lange, who unfortunately wants to set him up with her widowed father instead.

Tootsie is played as farce, but like the best screwball comedies of the 1930s, it has much to say about serious matters: the war between the sexes, the quest for artistic integrity and a pay cheque, and how dressing up as a woman can make you become a better man. As well as deleted scenes, make-up tests, and a director’s commentary, the Criterion Collection Blu-ray includes two documentaries, one of them an excellent in-depth account from 2007.

Tootsie was a long-nurtured project of Hoffman’s, based on his own experiences of being a difficult actor to cast. Hal Ashby was originally set to direct, and Pollack (more at home with serious subjects) describes his direction just as a professor of film would. We learn that the legendary Elaine May, who worked as an uncredited writer on the script, deepened Teri Garr's and Jessica Lange's characters. Hoffman reveals which moments were improvised – Pollack's shock is genuine when his character is groped in the Russian Tea Room. The star also recalls going to a party disguised as Tootsie to see how convincing he really was as a woman. His voice breaks in the interview as he remembers how horrible it felt to be a plain woman overlooked by men.

Bill Murray, fresh from improv comedy, riffed his playwright character's pretentious monologue without a script. Catching his room-mate Hoffman being chased around their apartment by an aged Lothario, he witheringly declares, "You slut". The only aspects of the movie that have dated noticeably are the relentlessly upbeat score by Dave Grusin and the cheesy montages. Otherwise Tootsie has not lost any of its original charm and plays well in our era of transgender politics.

Sydney Pollack's shock is genuine when his character is groped in the Russian Tea Room

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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