James Sheldrake

Tootsie (1982, Dir. Sydney Pollack) – Call her that if you dare

In Film on January 25, 2014 at 1:24 pm

The premise of this film is that Michael Dorsey, played by Dustin Hoffman, is a struggling New York actor who disguises himself as a woman in order to land a role in a soap opera. Already one thinks of Mrs. Doubtfire, but the variety and depth of the characters make for a more engaging – and more politically charged – story. Less Mrs. Doubtfire, more Some Like It Hot.

Hoffman plays Dorothy Michaels, Dorsey’s alter ego, absolutely straight. She is a character built from the ground up and there is no moment at which she is exploited for comic potential. She is very funny, but it is Dorothy (the ‘Tootsie’ of the title) who is funny. Not Dorsey, and not Hoffman. When you hear Hoffman’s discoveries during filming, the personal impetus for this becomes clear: http://tinyurl.com/oedpzfv.

Hoffman is the star attraction, but he is surrounded by generous performances in comparatively unglamorous roles. The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress went to Jessica Lange (though ‘Supporting’ is a touch unfair), who plays an actress in the soap that Dorothy Michaels is cast in. Dorothy’s behaviour, both on-screen and off, is highly influential on Julie, played by Lange. As Dorothy becomes more involved in Julie’s life, her widowed father falls for Dorothy. The father is touchingly portrayed and the film takes the unkind implications of Dorsey’s actions seriously. Bill Murray is a scene-stealer as Hoffman’s deadpan flatmate. Perhaps he has made too much of a niche of that, but I find the one-liners no less funny.

This is not the place to examine the sea-spray of the various waves of feminism (a word never actually spoken – ‘equality’ is as close as we get) as they crash over this film, not least because the film lets the politics of the story speak for itself. Questions that emerge from the narrative include do women have to behave like men to be taken seriously? What is the place of men in feminism? Should all men spend a day as a woman? That last question is a touch flippant but the journey of the male audience member is roughly that of Michael Dorsey, who sees things from a woman’s perspective for a change. How much you think he’s actually learnt by the end of the film is a matter for debate.

This film makes heavy use of dramatic irony; Dorsey as Dorothy takes a philanderer to task at one point, only to hear him use exactly the same words that he, Dorsey, had used to justify his rather shabby treatment of his own girlfriend. This ensures that the film expertly treads a line between propaganda and the kind of knock-about entertainment that tends cheerily to slice the Gordian knot of gender politics. If the film makes a single point, it is that Dorothy is a full character. The final expression of this is that the top of the credits reads thus:

Michael Dorsey…….Dustin Hoffman
Dorothy Michaels…Dustin Hoffman

JS

IMDb: http://tinyurl.com/q2savml

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Titus Andronicus – The Shock of the New

In Books on January 17, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Titus Andronicus – The Shock of the New.

 

See previous post… You get the idea.

 

JS

Sheldrake on Shakespeare – Prologue

In Books on January 17, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Sheldrake on Shakespeare – Prologue.

 

After too long a silence on this blog, I have dusted off the microphone and started podcasting. Let the broadcasting on CastingBroadly commence!

JS