Long before the late Robin Williams did his best drag impression in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’(1993) Dustin Hoffman arguably played it more convincingly in ‘Tootsie’ (1982: AFI 1996 #62, 2007 #69). Sure Williams had the advantage of superior make-up to effectively disguise his identity, but Hoffman’s character was better developed and it always bugged me that Mrs Doubtfire introduced herself as English rather than Scottish (those darn Americans!) in the 1993 film set in San Francisco based on a book by British author Anne Fine (those darn Americans!).
When I sat down to watch the 1982 Oscar Winning movie for my AFI 100 movie challenge I definitely had my favourite childhood film to compare it to, but to be honest the only similarities are that the protagonists dress up as women to deceive people close to them with hilarious consequences. That’s where the comparison ends.
In ‘Tootsie’ Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey an out of work actor who has a reputation of being difficult so no one in the industry wants to work with him. He hears of a upcoming role in a soap opera and auditions for the part of ‘Dorothy Michaels’ disguised as a woman and wins the part. Much to Dorsey’s shock his creation becomes an overnight sensation because of ‘her’ feisty and no nonsense attitude. But things get a bit awkward when Dorsey falls for his co-star Julie Nichols played by innocent and timid Jessica Lange. There is even a really cringy scene where Michaels who is meant to be a middle-aged feminist tries to kiss Lange.
Although the movie is entertaining and Hoffman is brilliant as the eccentric Michael Dorsey and equally nuts Dorothy Michaels I wondered if the flick was good enough to make it on AFIs list of 100 movies of all time. What separates it from all the other comedies where the main character cross-dresses to trick people? Firstly the script is sharp and punchy and unlike family friendly ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ this film is for the adults. The supporting cast is terrific, Teri Garr (Phoebe’s mum in Friends) plays the ditsy and hopeless romantic acting student of Hoffman and I think she should have taken the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress rather than wooden Jessica Lange. Bill Murry brings in his typical dry wit dry humour as Hoffman’s roommate in his pre-Ghostbuster superstardom days.
But most importantly Michael Dorsey /Dorothy Michaels is believable and more likable than William’s creation in this Sydney Pollack classic. There are a few flaws in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ that I’ve come to realise as I’ve grown older. Firstly Robin Williams character is pretty much a loser, he lives off his wife, behaves likes a big kid and we are supposed to feel empathy for him when she throws him out? In real life a character like that wouldn’t have the intelligence or guts to pull of Mrs Doubtfire. In fact he would probably break down in tears the moment he steps into his old family home again. Hoffman’s character is a go-getter, a perfectionist who knows what he wants and is ruthless in his pursuit which makes the movie more realistic than the similar plots made before and after the 1982 classic flick. Although one can argue Williams complete and utter dedication towards his children gives him the courage and determination to succeed in his trickery.
Robin Williams On Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Tootsie’ Performance
Dustin Hoffman is perhaps the most underrated performer of his generation. In the 1970s only he and Jack Nicholson were able to immerse themselves in completely different roles in a believable manner. So it’s sometimes frustrating that De Niro and Pacino gets all the praise when most of the time they often played one dimensional characters (but brilliantly nevertheless). For the shear genius of Hoffman who despite having a stellar supporting cast can carry this movie by himself I give ‘Tootsie’ a 4.5 out 5.