Hoffman Blows Childhood Favourite Creation Out of The Water

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.

Lange and Hoffman get cosy

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.

Dustin Hoffman, Terri Garr & Sydney Pollack on the set of ‘Tootsie’

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.

Do You Belong Here?

My friend Sunny who told me on the weekend that when he reads my blogs he is hoping to one day find a review on a film he’s actually watched – I guess he is expecting something like ‘Iron Man(2008)’ or ‘Training Day (2001)’ to be featured.

Perhaps in the twentieth anniversary there might be some representation of the modern comic, superhero, fantasy genre which seems to be lacking in the current list. But I can put my money on a film like ‘Superman (1978)’ being added long before ‘The Avengers’ (2012) is.  Not because it is necessarily better or more popular than the blockbuster starring Scarlett Johansson, but it did the genre first and is therefore arguably more culturally significant, which is a major criteria for the movies to be considered for the countdown.  Just as I explained why ‘Jaws’ (1975, AFI 1998: #46, 2007:#56) deserved its spot on the AFI top 100 list – It influenced countless of (mostly terrible) horror movies that followed suit or why ‘On the Waterfront (1954, 1998:#8, 2007:#19)’ is regarded so highly on the list. Not only because is it a terrific movie, but it has the timeless “I could have been somebody” line that everyone seems to know (but sadly more and more non classic movies lovers are forgetting where it originated from).

I’ve probably so far watched around sixty classic movies featured on the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time lists and so I’ve agreed that most films earned a place on the prestigious countdown.  But there are some movies that I just don’t understand how they made the cut.

Fonda and Hopper speak on Jack Nicholson’s role in ‘Easy Rider’

For example I don’t see what the big deal is about ‘East Rider (1969, 1998:#88, 2007:#84)’, a coming of age movie about two bikers who travel through the South. It stars Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda who with the money they made through drug smuggling go on an adventure across America where they meet some characters along the way. One of them is pre-frame and very young Jack Nicholson who even though is my favourite modern movie star and plays the role of a drunken Lawyer very convincingly, doesn’t regain my interest in the movie. Although the feature gives a good insight to life in late sixties America the plot is really thin and at times I had to rewind the film because I was getting distracted. The ending is the biggest shock of the film and comes totally unexpected and is definitely the highlight of the film.

Trailer for ‘Easy Rider’

I guess the movie was very unique and taboo busting at the time because it dealt with the hippie movement, recreational use of drugs and promiscuity – all pretty tame by modern standards and done better by Midnight Cowboy (1969, 1998;#36, 2007: #43). I give the movie 2 out of 5 and that’s mostly for the killer soundtrack!

Jack Nicholson seals the show in ‘Easy Rider’