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TOOTSIE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Charles Durning, Dabney Coleman, Bill Murray
Director:  Sydney Pollack
Audio:  PCM Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  116 Minutes
Release Date:  December 16, 2014

“A guy named Les sent you candy?”

“Yes.  He’s a friend.  He’s diabetic.   He can’t eat candy.”

“Why is he thanking you for a night in front of the fire?”

“My mind’s a blank…”

Film ****

I was a kid when Tootsie first came to the big screen in 1982, and I can still remember the instant sensation it became.   Dustin Hoffman in drag?  It was too good to be true.  My family and I went, of course, and like most audiences, we went expecting to laugh, but came away charmed by the picture’s lilting, magical spell and the affirmation it had for its characters.  Credit underrated director Sydney Pollock, who undertook the project with a key understanding:  “If in 1982 a man puts on a dress,” he said, “he’d better become a better man for it.”

Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, a talented but impossible New York actor whose reputation for nitpicking and arguing with directors has made life a nightmare for his agent (played by Pollock himself).  No one will hire him, and prospects become bleak for raising the money needed to produce a play written by his roommate, Jeff (an uncredited Bill Murray) featuring a juicy starring role for himself.  Jeff tries to bring focus to his friend.  “Just be Michael Dorsey,” he prompts.  “Okay, I’m Michael Dorsey,” Michael responds.  “What’s the payoff?”

But when longtime friend Sandy (Garr) gets turned down for a juicy soap opera role for not being tough enough, it becomes the opportunity Michael has been waiting for.  In a red wig, glasses, and new outfit, Dorothy Michaels is born, and born to act.

Funny stuff is afoot…but even more so, the picture offers Michael (and us) a lesson or two about womanhood.  Suddenly subjected to the pinches, off color remarks and addresses of “doll” and “honey”, Dorothy protests by putting her anger into her work.   She slowly becomes a national role model for women everywhere, even though her director (Coleman), is continually under the ironic assumption that power in women equals masculinity.  (“Is it okay if I call you honey when we’re not working?” he actually asks.)

Dorothy is a success for Michael’s career, but grows to be a terrible boon on his personal life, especially when he begins to fall in love with his co-star, Julie (a radiant and Oscar winning performance by Jessica Lange).  As Dorothy, she becomes Julie’s closest friend and confidant, but actually being Michael, he has no hope of getting as close to her as he would like.  Complicating matters further is when Julie’s jovial father (Durning) begins to fall for Dorothy.  “He proposed to me!” Michael later tells his agent.  “I was so upset, I went into the ladies’ room and almost pissed in the sink!”

The comedy runs as high as the human emotions run deep.  By the time Michael takes drastic action to put his life back into normal working order, he has indeed become a better man for his experiences as a woman.  Does the ending wrap things up a little too neatly?  Sort of…but for a film that takes risks for a solid hour and a half, it can be forgiven for reaching for safety in the final stretch.

Credit must be given to Dustin Hoffman, who not only was sport enough to don the dress (it was reported that his beard grew so heavily that they could only film him in makeup for three hours at a time), but for kidding himself as well, or at least the public persona of himself.  Reputed as a single minded method actor, the early scenes with Michael Dorsey trying to get work, discussing his craft, and giving pointers drip with self-parody.  With or without the wig, this is one of Hoffman’s most appealing performances.

Tootsie is a very funny, very charming, and very winning American comedy…a classic through and through.  Spend two hours with a man in a woman’s shoes and see if your perceptions aren’t gently and humorously altered as well.

Video ***1/2

I used to think that films from the 80s came across the worst of all on disc.  Criterion has disproved that theory more than once, and they do so again with a remarkably vibrant transfer for Tootsie.  The 30 -plus year old film shows practically no age:  the print is clean and clear throughout.  Colors are extremely natural looking, with good integrity and containment.  Images are sharp and clear from start to finish, with no grain, break-up or other troublesome compression evidence.  In other words, this film got the treatment a top comedy classic deserves.

Audio ***

The 5.0 mix is solid.  There’s not much in the way of discreet channel usage, but the overall sound is full and clean sounding.  Dynamic range is fair, and dialogue is always very clear.  The biggest benefactor of the new mix is the music:  Dave Grusin’s beautiful and spirited score, and one of my personal all-time favorite movie songs, “It Might Be You” by Stephen Bishop. 

Features ***1/2

The extras include an audio commentary with the late Sydney Pollack, a new interview with Dustin Hoffman and comedy writer Phil Rosenthal, an interview with "Dorothy Michaels" by Gene Shalit, two documentaries on the film (one from 1982 and one from 2007), as well as test footage, deleted scenes, and trailers.

Summary:

Tootsie is a triumph.  If you’ve seen it before, experience it again, and if you haven’t, there’s no better way to get acquainted with this charming comedy classic than on this quality Blu-ray offering from Criterion.

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