Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The studio system collapsed in the '60s, but every now and then, attentive mainstream filmmakers are able to recreate the creative conditions that produced so many seamless prestige pictures during Hollywood's Golden Age. In many ways, the 1982 comedy Tootsie is a product of its time, from its bustling Dave Grusin score to its "boy, those modern women sure have it tough" theme. But it's also a study in craft, put together by a crew of actors, writers, and technicians at the top of their games. It's that rarest of high-toned Hollywood products: a pointed farce that ticks like a clock and rings like a bell.

Tootsie star Dustin Hoffman originally wanted to make a movie about a male athlete who rises to the top of his sport in a women's league following a sex-change operation. But then Hoffman came across a script about an actor masquerading as an actress in order to get a part on a daytime drama, and he saw an opportunity to explore the theme of contemporary gender confusion and lampoon his own reputation as "difficult." Hoffman, M*A*S*H writer Larry Gelbart, and director Sydney Pollack—who also plays Hoffman's frustrated agent—worked closely together, tweaking the material on the fly, and allowing input from a cast that included such comic talents as Teri Garr, Charles Durning, Dabney Coleman, and Bill Murray. Pollack has never been a magnificent visual stylist, but he made smart use of New York loft apartments and soap-opera sets, creating a world that looks like one long stage for the characters to trot across.

To some extent, Tootsie can come off as a little too slick. The movie's snappy comic timing and twisty plot—which has Hoffman donning a dress to get a job, and then becoming outrageously popular—partially obscures what it seems to say, that men make better women than women do. But Tootsie's mixed messages aren't as important as the lively, lived-in spoof of a New York actor's self-absorbed life. The jokes work because they come from people who know first-hand what kind of perfectionism and arrogance it takes to make something great.


Key features: Deleted scenes and an hourlong look back, featuring absorbing on-set footage and touching new interviews with Hoffman and the others about the emotional changes they went through while making this movie.

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