Saturday, August 14, 2010

"That is One Nutty Hospital."

Watching Tootsie. I have such a soft spot for this film. Everyone in it is just so good. We're in an odd generation right now, in terms of actors. There are, of course, some amazing ones out there, but your typical film doesn't have an entire cast of outstanding, natural actors. I don't know who this generation's primary talents are, for certain. But in 1982, when this film was released, it had a lot of star power and a lot of talent. In one film, you had Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, Teri Garr, Jessica Lange, Dabney Coleman, Sydney Pollack, and Charles Durning. Each is as great as the other, and the entire film -- a piece of fluff, really -- is a work of beauty.

For those unenlightened, the premise of the film: Michael Dorsey (Hoffman)is an unemployed actor. He's dedicated to his craft and determined to always do as he believes it should be done. No one is willing to work with him. He gets a chance at a soap acting gig, but it must be as his created alter-ego, Dorothy Michaels.(At one point he informs his best friend, "I don't believe in Hell. I believe in unemployment, but I don't believe in Hell.") He becomes a national sensation, but keeping the secret is maddening. Only his best friend, Jeff, knows the truth. He can't tell his friend Sandy because she tried out for the part and didn't get it. To keep her off the trail, he sleeps with her, creating a tense situation where she repeatedly gets hurt. Hoffman befriends a co-star, Julie (Lange), and ultimately falls in love with her. Julie is dating Ron (Coleman), who treats her poorly. Julie's father meets and falls in love with Dorothy, never knowing that Dorothy is really Michael. What Michael did simply to work takes over his entire life, and he has no idea what he's doing or how to get out of it and return to what his life was, or what it should be.

It could've been Le Cage Aux Falles, a huge broad farce. Instead, there's lots of subtlety to it. Okay, fine, there is a scene with Hoffman marching in place in front of flag in a sequined dress. But there are also lots of statements being made about gender inequality, about power and living life truthfully, about the lengths someone will go to in order to pursue their craft and support art, about the forms that love takes. You have Sandy in love with Michael, not because she wants to be necessarily, but because sex with a friend was supposed to lead there, even when it was clear it wasn't right. There is Van Horn in love with Dorothy, because she's the only one who ever openly rejected him as a Lothario. Les loves Dorothy because he sees in her a real companion -- someone whose company he genuinely enjoys and who fills the void left by his deceased wife. Ron loves everyone, but treats them all like hell. He tells Dorothy at one point, "You don't like me. There's very few women I can't make like me... I seduce a woman. She starts acting like I promised her something, then I start acting like I promised her something, and before you know it, I'm the one that's exploited." He has no idea that he's a complete ass who uses the women in his life, hurting them all. The reason for Michael's whole charade, of course, is his love of his best friend Jeff and the desire to help him put on a play he's poured his soul into. There is the beautiful friendship that develops between Dorothy and Julie, one full of love and mutual respect. And of course, the most important love story of all of them, the one between Michael and Julie. Michael sees his prophetic words develop and is smart enough to listen to them: "I think Dorothy is smarter than me." She is. She has created a relationship with Julie based on ideas, on encouragement, on all the important fronts that best friends need. From this, love grows. The song of the movie, "It Might Be You," ponders the questions of where real love could be found. "If I found the place, would I recognize the face?" There's so much growth for the characters in this film. Michael grows up. He realizes that he loves a woman, not only based on his sexual desire for her, but because of who she is.

It's a film about big, bold lies. These big, bold lies provide a canvas upon which truth is displayed. Only by pretending to be a woman does Michael come to understand them. The women in the film seem to only come to see who they are, or who they are capable of being, by learning from a man what it is female empowerment is all about.

It's no wonder that I return to this film time and again. It's goofy, and by turns quite serious. It's all about loving who you are, what you do, and those around you. What's not to love about this film?

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