“The tone is quick-witted and appealing, with some of the smartest dialogue this side of Billy Wilder...” - Geoff Andrew, Time Out
Tootsie is the second film we’ve shown that both stars Dustin Hoffman and is set in New York City (Midnight Cowboy was the first). It’s also easily the most commercial film we’ve shown so far. In 1982 it was the second highest grossing film at the US box office after ET.
The film was a critical as well as commercial success and nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Dustin Hoffman and Teri Garr. In the end it only won one - Jessica Lange for Best Supporting Actress.
Another actor you’ll recognise is Bill Murray who plays Hoffman’s flatmate. Also keep your eye out for Geena Davis in her first film role.
On the 80s front, viewers should be warned that the film features some truly atrocious songs.
The film was very much Dustin Hoffman’s own project. He’d been working on a story with the playwright Murray Schisgal that would allow him to play a woman in some way or other. More than 20 writers eventually worked on the script, including Barry Levinson and Elaine May.
Hoffman’s first choice of director was Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) who couldn't commit due to another project. The studio suggested Sydney Pollack, who’d never directed a comedy before. As you’ll see Sydney Pollack has a role in the film as Dustin Hoffman’s agent. He took the acting job on Hoffman’s suggestion as Dustin saw elements of their personal relationship in what was in the script.
The production was, by all accounts, a nightmare. Pollack and Hoffman didn't get on at all. You can read Hoffman’s side of the story in an interview I’ve linked to on our website. The production went 23 days behind schedule because of unforeseen difficulties with Hoffman’s make-up.
“The make-up didn't work. It took three hours to apply and it started to disintegrate from the moment it was applied. So by the time I go out, Owen Roizman, the director of photography, looks at it and says, "It looks okay here, but the left side is a little... Go fix that." While we're fixing that, another part is disintegrating. We were shooting the woman stuff first, and after a month, we're a month behind. We would get one shot a day. That caused consternation, which built to the point that I saw rushes - and I looked green. I looked looked like something out of a John Carpenter film.
That was a terrible day. I turned to Sydney and said, "We're fucked." And Sydney says, "Clear the room, please." And the whole crew leaves except for Owen, and he says to Owen, "What do you think, Owen?" and Owen was honest to a fault and said, "It doesn't work." And then there was just a fight and words were exchanged. I mean, it got nasty. I said, "I'm not shooting any more 'til this is fixed." I'm sure I was a bit hysterical. And I'm not sure Sydney and I ever recovered from it.”
That said, Dustin Hoffman is also on the record as saying, “I have great gratification and satisfaction on the finished product of Tootsie”.
Tootsie is the sort of film, looking at it 30 years after it was made, that you can imagine scholarly essays written about its sexual politics and so on. This article from the time criticised the film's "implicit sexism and the mixed 'feminist' message".
Negative reviews were very rare when the film came out though and Tootsie was a huge critical as well as commercial success. In his review Roger Ebert wrote, “Tootsie is the kind of Movie with a capital M that they used to make in the 1940s, when they weren't afraid to mix up absurdity with seriousness, social comment with farce, and a little heartfelt tenderness right in there with the laughs.”
Personally I think that’s the spirit in which the film can be most enjoyed.