ICYMI: Krystal Evans on Tootsie
Stand-up comedian Krystal Evans gives a first watch to Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie for our ICYMI column
I had heard of Tootsie, and knew it was lauded as a brilliant comedy, but considering it’s from 1982 and about a straight man dressing as a woman, I just assumed it was a 120-minute gay joke.
I mean, can you blame me? Pre-1997, the idea of a man being gay was the punchline of 99% of jokes in all films and television in Hollywood. No, seriously! The scriptwriter would type "GAY MEN EXIST" into his typewriter, dust the cocaine off his hands, say "welp better turn this bad boy in,” then call up another guy friend and skip together down the sidewalk toward a sandy beach where they did old timey things like talk to each other and feel the full potential of their manly creative minds flourish in a world that accepted them, and only them, for who they were: assholes. The audience, upon being reminded that gay men exist, would spit out their Tab and Funyuns in uproarious laughter all over their scratch n sniff slap bracelets while hurling money toward the movie screen. No exceptions. Ask your parents!
So, it's also hard to imagine that in 1982, Dustin Hoffman starred in a film where he played an out-of-work actor who dresses as a middle-aged southern feminist woman in order to land a role on a daytime soap opera. Unbelievably, there are almost no punchlines which make fun of people who are gay, female, or trans (even though the word didn't exist yet).
Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) gets so ‘method’ as Dorothy, he has a killer line towards the start of the film toward a very sexist male character: "Oh, you want some gross caricature of a woman. To prove some idiotic point like 'power makes women masculine' or 'masculine women are ugly'. Shame on you. Macho shithead." Get it, girl.
There are other surprising things. Jessica Lange’s character has a 14-month-old baby, Hoffman asks if she's divorced, she says "No I've never been married" and that's all that's spoken of it – maybe she wanted to raise the baby alone. Who knows? They don’t address it, because fuck you. It’s not the point of the movie.
Likewise, when Lange resists her attraction to Dorothy, she never dismisses her own or Dorothy’s feelings, or shames Dorothy for being a lesbian (or so she thinks). It’s part of the brilliance of the movie.
May I gush? Even though I watched Tootsie by myself, I laughed loads like a total weirdo. The soundtrack alone does that magical thing where it makes me nostalgic for a time I never lived through. Dustin's long black hair and thick New York accent is swoon.
And, never have I seen so many classic Hollywood movie tropes play out one after the other: a poor character with a huge NYC pad, a meet-cute where characters drop shit then find love in each other’s eyes, MAKEOVER MONTAGE, drink thrown in man’s face for being too sexually forward, man serenading someone from a balcony and New Yorkers screaming at him to stfu. I could go on.
The film comes to a head when the lead actor in the soap opera confesses his love for Dorothy, is finally invited up to her flat and full-on assaults her with an in-drag Hoffman trying to escape and saying "no, stop" etc. This is all (extremely uncomfortably) played for laughs. Luckily Bill Murray comes in and relieves the scene of all tension.
At this point, I'd lost a bit of faith in the wokeness of the film – but when Dustin Hoffman regales what has happened to Murray, he seems genuinely upset, saying "Don't. Rape is not a laughing matter. I saw the look in his eyes. I was in big trouble. You hadn't walked in right then, I'd have been in the Daily News tomorrow.” That's a better attitude than I've seen from some films made in the last decade. Still, docking points for assault as comedy, but at least it was addressed, sort of. A for effort.
After watching the film five days ago, I’ve been playing It Might Be You by Stephen Bishop on repeat and I finally realised what I've been looking for all of my life: a 40-yr-old Dustin Hoffman leaning against a Light Blue Ford Transit MK2 in 1982. Which is why I’ll always be unhappy.
Tootsie is out now on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming on NOW TV
Illustration by Chiara Celini