Tuesday, October 19, 2010

TOOTSIE: Great Video Moments

Note: This following blog comment emerged from a discussion of "Great Video Moments." I had begun discussing a scene in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, where Darcy and Elizabeth exchange loving glances.

Moving on from Jane Austen, let’s turn to Shakespeare. No, rather, let’s fast forward to TOOTSIE (1982) with Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange. I think this is a truly great comedy, very funny in a Shakespearean way. (for the Bard himself on film, I recommend Twelfth Night, with Imogene Stubbs playing Viola). Tootsie examines human nature, male and female, through the device of a man acting a woman’s part. Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, who auditions for the role of Emily Kimberly, the hospital administrator in a sitcom. He does so by pretending to be a woman, Dorothy Michaels. Dorothy becomes famous, Michael is a sensation for the first time in his career, and in the process he falls in love with Julie (Jessica Lange), an actress on the show.

Anyway, the GVM comes near the end as they have to shoot a live scene of Emily’s Appreciation Party. The preceding scenes set up the moment hilariously, as Michael has been accused of being gay (by his ex-girlfriend), lesbian (by Julie), and available (by Julie’s father Les, who proposes to her/him). Though he is achieving his career ambitions, Michael wants out so he can court Julie.

As the scene unfolds, the camera jumps to and from the technical people and the actors and the viewers, including all the main characters. As the hospital cast toasts Emily, she begins her acceptance speech and then begins to adlib in her real down-home Southern accent. She spins a tale about a lost sister, who got pregnant, “contracted a disfiguring disease” and moved to Tangiers, before returning to her life ambition to be a nurse at SW General. This sister swore to speak out wherever she saw injustice. Throughout this remarkable speech, Hoffman stutters and pauses and keeps everyone guessing what he is coming to come out with next.

Finally, he gets to the climax. The sister, the real Emily Kimberly, died from her ill treatment, but she was deeply loved by her brother, who swore to the Good Lord on the day of her death that he would owe it all up to her, and on her terms, and as a woman. “For I am not Emily Kimberly…” - at this point Hoffman changes from his Dorothy voice to his male voice and begins removing his wig and makeup – but I am Edward Kimberly , the son of Duane and Alma Kimberly – and just as proud to be a woman that was the best part of myself.” Various reactions – “Cut!” from the director, a punch in the stomach from Julie, and “That’s one screwed up dude” from his roommate.

Various scenes in the film show that Michael actually has begun to learn about himself – from an arrogant egotist to one who can love a woman and care about her love-child and her widowed father. So it is only fitting that the GVM is matched by a happy ending. Michael catches up with Julie on the street and tries to win her over. Finally, she admits: “I miss Dorothy.” “You don’t have to,” he replies. “See, she’s right here, and she misses you.” He then goes on in almost Shakespearean fashion: “Look, you don’t know me from Adam, but I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man. You know what I mean? I’ve just got to learn to do it without the dress.”

I really do not care for agenda-tainted films (e.g., “The Mission” or “Dead Man Walking”). It strikes me that “Tootsie,” even though written after the Sexual Revolution poisoned so much art, is wonderfully human, and examines what Shakespeare and the Bible look at each in their different ways: the mystery of man in two sexes.

Have a comment? Please send it via email.

Follow-ups from Stephen

There are no follow-ups to this post at this time.