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Film / Tootsie

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Dustin Hoffman + red sequins = awesome.

George: You are psychotic!
Michael: No, I'm not. I'm employed.

Tootsie is a 1982 romantic comedy film starring Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange and directed by Sydney Pollack, who also has a supporting role. Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H) and Murray Schisgal wrote the screenplay, with uncredited contributions from Barry Levinson and Elaine May.

Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is a struggling actor in New York City who, despite being very talented, has trouble finding work because he's too much of a perfectionist and consequently very difficult to work with. Desperate for money to finance a play written by his roommate Jeff (Bill Murray), Michael goes to his agent George (Pollack), who tells him that no one in New York will hire him.note  After taking his friend Sandy (Teri Garr) to an unsuccessful audition for the part of a female hospital administrator in a soap opera, he decides to put on a dress and wig and audition for the part himself. After initially being dismissed as too feminine, "Dorothy Michaels" lands the part and soon gains immense popularity with the show's fans.

The romantic relationships in the film are very convoluted, since the same person is two completely different characters, a fact known only by his roommate. Michael falls in love with Julie (Lange), one of his costars on the show, who knows him only as Dorothy. As the two grow closer, Julie invites Dorothy to spend the holidays with her and her widowed father Les (Charles Durning), who ends up falling for Dorothy. Michael, meanwhile, is technically dating Sandy after sleeping with her to avoid telling her his secret when she catches him nearly naked in her bedroom sizing up her clothes, while Julie is going out with the show's misogynistic director, Ron Carlisle (Dabney Coleman); it is through observing this relationship as Dorothy that Michael realizes he's treated Sandy as badly as Ron treats Julie. Dorothy also attracts John Van Horn (George Gaynes), one of the soap's has-been stars, who thinks she's dating Michael's roommate Jeff. Confused yet?

The film was well-received by both critics and the public, becoming the second highest-grossing film of 1982. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning Best Supporting Actress for Lange, and garnered Hoffman a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for Best Actor. It was also praised for its innovative take on gender relations, showcased through the things Michael learns about men and women by living both lives. In 2019, it was adapted into a Broadway stage musical called Tootsie and changes the main setting of a TV show into a Broadway show and updating it to present-day New York City, whilst expanding roles of several characters. It starred Santino Fontana as Michael / Dorothy, Lili Cooper as Julie, Sarah Stiles as Sandy, Andy Grotelueschen as Jeff, Reg Rogers as Ron, and Michael McGrath as Stan.

Has nothing to do with the rolls or the pops, though the Title Theme Tune does say, "Roll, Tootsie, roll!"

Tropes used in the original movie:

  • Actor Allusion: All the complaints about Michael Dorsey? They were all real complaints about Dustin Hoffman.
  • Answer Cut:
    • Technically not a question, but close enough:
    George: Michael, no one will hire you.
    Michael: Oh, yeah?
    [Cut to Michael dressed as Dorothy walking down a crowded New York sidewalk]
    • Also, when Dorothy is babysitting Julie's daughter Amy:
      Dorothy: Now how much trouble can a baby be?
      [Cut to Dorothy running around desperately trying to quiet Amy crying]
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Downplayed. While Michael makes a very convincing woman, the limitations of drag cause Dorothy to appear as a fairly unremarkable (if well put together) middle-aged lady rather than a knock-out bombshell, and the rest of the cast all have varied opinions about her attractiveness. Nonetheless, she manages to inadvertently attract the attention of two different men over the course of the film.
  • Audience-Alienating Premise: Invoked In-Universe by Michael's agent about Jeff's play Return to Love Canal, about a couple moving back to a toxic waste laden town in New Jersey.
  • Award-Bait Song: "It Might Be You"
  • Bad "Bad Acting": In-Universe, John Van Horn's eyes are constantly glued to the teleprompter, and most of his effort is put into kissing his female co-stars.
  • Big "NO!": Sandy's aghast reaction to Michael revealing he's Dorothy on live TV.
  • Breakout Character: In-universe. The character of Emily Kimberly was intended to only appear for a single arc on Southwest General before the overwhelmingly positive response to Dorothy's portrayal of her causes her to quickly take over the show and be turned into a regular cast member. This actually serves as a source of conflict for Michael, as having to play Dorothy forever is the last thing he wants to do.
  • Classically-Trained Extra: At the beginning of the movie, Michael is a brilliant actor whose most recent paid role was as a tomato in a commercial due to his notoriously perfectionist behavior making him an industry pariah. Even his breakout performance as Emily Kimberly could be viewed as a form of this, as he auditioned for it expecting it to be a short-lasting guest spot on a cornball soap opera before the popularity of his performance effectively turns the character into the series' lead and a national sensation.
  • Comically Missing the Point: "Does Jeff know?"
    • Also Ron during the big reveal. He's more happy that he figured out now why Dorothy/Michael doesn't like him than the fact that he's put his job in jeopardy.
  • Credits Gag: Dustin Hoffman received credits for both Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels separately in the closing credits.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Jeff. His moment of glory comes when John turns up at the apartment to see Dorothy, and Michael has to pretend that he's in a relationship with Jeff:
      Jeff: (to Michael) You slut.
    • Also, after The Reveal (seen by Jeff as well as the rest of the greater metropolitan area on live TV):
      Jeff: That is one nutty hospital.
    • Michael gets off a few good ones.
      Michael: Pardon me, but is my acting interfering with your talking?
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Michael ad-libs a backstory in this vein to justify revealing himself as a man playing a woman live on television; his character chose to take on the identity of his deceased older sister and became a hospital administrator in order to inherit her will and fulfill her lifelong ambition of helping people.
  • Dirty Old Man: John Van Horn is an aging actor who has served as the leading man on Southwest General for over two decades and has kissed every single female actor he's shared a scene with in that time, so much so that he is nicknamed "The Tongue" behind his back. When Dorothy manages to avoid having to do an on-screen kiss with him in their first scene together, he makes a point of kissing her for real as soon as the cameras stop rolling to congratulate her for a job well done.
  • Disguised in Drag: Michael has managed to irritate New York producers so thoroughly that he has to pretend to be a woman to get a part.
  • Easily Forgiven: After a little sulking, Les quickly gets over Michael pretending to be Dorothy and agrees to let Michael buy him a beer.
  • Exact Words: Assuring Sandy that he is not having an affair with a "woman" that she spotted entering his apartment, Michael tells her that "she" has been a friend of Jeff for years. Later, he assures her that she would never give her another woman's candy (the candy was originally given to "Dorothy").
  • Failed Audition Plot: Michael fails many auditions in the beginning. This encourages him to take an audition dressed as a woman for a female role.
  • Fanservice: A young Geena Davis in skimpy bra and panties. Nuff said.
  • Food Slap: When Michael (while disguised as Dorothy) hears from Julie just how she would like a man to approach her, he decides to try it himself to her at a party while out of his disguise. He tries to be sincere, but she thinks that he is being creepy, and splashed her cupful of water in his face.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the opening montage, the idea of a man playing a woman is subtly introduced during one of Michael's auditions:
      Michael: Oh, sweetheart, do you know what it was like waking up in Paris that morning, seeing the empty pillow where — Wait a minute! Cover your breasts. Kevin is downstairs! My God, what are you?
      Male Stage Manager: (flatly reading) I'm a woman. Not Felicia's mother. Not Kevin's wife.
    • Comments fairly early in the film about how crew mishaps and technical problems occasionally force the show to do a Live Episode.
  • Freudian Slip: "What kind of mother would I be if I didn't give my girls tits? Er, tips. It's tips."
  • Gender-Bender Friendship: One of the most notable and well-done examples of this trope, Michael falls in love with Julie as a woman, and learns valuable things about himself as a man through his relationship with her.
    Michael: I was a better man with you, as a woman... than I ever was with a woman, as a man. You know what I mean?
  • Gilligan Cut: Michael ponders what to tell Sandy about the money he's gotten from his job on Southwest General:
    Michael: Where will I say I got the money? What am I gonna do, tell her somebody died and left it to me?
    [cut to Sandy's apartment]
    Sandy: My God! When did she die?
  • Good-Times Montage: Dorothy's success on the soap is depicted with scenes of her posing for various magazine covers.
    • More subtly, we are shown Julie signing autographs and then later, Julie signing autographs and "Dorothy" signing lots and lots of autographs.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Michael Dorsey was notorious for being too much of a perfectionist and consequently very difficult to work with, hence why he took up the Dorothy Michaels alter ego. After the Internal Reveal during a live taping of the soap opera Southwest General, while Michael was able to produce his friend Jeff's play, it's possible he completely lost his acting license in disgrace for perpetrating a public fraud by masquerading as Dorothy Michaels for a long period of time during the soap's run, even though even manages to make amends with Julie and her father for deceiving them.
  • Hipster: Jeff.
    Jeff: I don't want a full house at the Winter Garden Theatre. I want 90 people who just came out of the worst rainstorm in the city's history. These are people who are alive on the planet until they dry off. I wish I had a theatre that was only open when it rained.
    (A little later...)
    Jeff: I did a thing about suicides of the American Indian. And nobody cared. Nobody showed. And I think the American Indian is as American as John and Ethel Barrymore and, uh, Donny and Marie Osmond. I think it's really sad, but I think that, nowadays, when people dream, they don't even dream in their own country anymore. And that's sick.
  • Hospital Hottie: Jessica Lange as Julie and Geena Davis as April both play hot nurses on Southwest General. Subverted with John Van Horn, who plays an over-the-hill, over-sexed doctor.
  • Humiliation Conga: Poor Sandy. It starts with her being rejected for a role and just goes downhill from there.
  • Hurricane of Excuses: The casting director at one of Michael Dorsey's auditions says he wants someone taller. He can put inserts in his shoes. The CD corrects himself and says he wants someone shorter. Michael's already wearing inserts, so he can do that too. Then he says he wants someone different, and of course, as an actor, Michael can be different. Finally, he just gives up and says, "We want someone else."
  • I Have Nothing to Say to That: When Sandy asks Michael about some flowers he's received.
    Michael: (after a Beat of thinking frantically) My mind's a blank.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: All the things Michael tells his class during the opening montage? He violates during all of his auditions.
  • Informed Ability: Ron is ostensibly considered to be one of the most respected directors working in television. Not only is he a repugnant misogynist who belittles his female staff, but what we see of his work prior to Michael's involvement in it is thoroughly mediocre and by the numbers, with the majority of his actual direction being restricted to demanding that everyone stick to the script. Perhaps it's his efficiency as a director rather than his talent that makes him so highly evaluated? Or that his talent is highly conventional?
  • Insistent Terminology: It's not a "soap opera", it's a "daytime drama". (Truth in Television: Until a few years ago, you could get fired for calling them "soap operas".)
  • Insult Backfire: Sandy rants to Michael about Dorothy's supposedly tough character on the soap, calling her a "wimp" and saying she should write her own lines if they're the problem. Since Michael is Dorothy, he takes the suggestion and starts doing exactly that.
  • Internal Reveal: The big reveal for both the fictional soap and the actual movie, when Michael takes off his wig and many of his feminine touches and reveals himself to be a man during a live taping of Southwest General. The movie's audience, of course, has known all along.
  • Irony:
    • Jeff gets frustrated with not being able to answer the phone.
    Jeff: I don't see any reason why I should just sit here pretending I'm not home just because you're not that kind of girl. That's weird.
    • Les gives a speech to Dorothy about how he believes society's increasing fixation on breaking down the barriers that exist between genders to be more harm than good and that men and women are fundamentally too different from each other to ever achieve true equality. While his overall sentiment is well-meaning (he's essentially saying that people should be more interested in being themselves than chasing an unobtainable ideal), it is completely undermined by the fact that he is unknowingly saying it to a man pretending to be a woman whose experiences doing so have caused him to gain new understandings of himself and the world around him.
  • Just Friends: Subverted with Michael and Sandy, who aren't in love with each other, yet sleep together and start dating because Michael doesn't want to tell her his secret. Michael proceeds to be a much worse boyfriend than he was a friend.
    Sandy: No, we are not friends. I don't take this shit from friends. Only from lovers.
  • Large Ham: Sandy's speech when she is told about "the other woman".
  • Leitmotif: An instrumental of "It Might Be You" is the theme for the interactions between Michael and Julie.
  • Live Episode: In-universe. It is during the live episode of Southwest General that Dorothy Michaels reveals herself to be Michael Dorsey, or rather Emily Kimberly reveals that she is really her brother, Edward Kimberly.
  • Love at First Sight: Michael is instantly smitten with Julie from the moment he meets her for the first time when she's helping him collecting his scattered papers.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Michael loves Julie, who knows him only as Dorothy, and has hit on her in both guises and been rejected (although they reconcile at the end). Michael is dating Sandy, who is convinced that he's cheating on her with Dorothy. Dorothy meanwhile is wooed by both Julie's father Les and John Van Horn, an actor on the soap. Julie, meanwhile, is dating Ron, the soap's director, a charming but misogynistic jerk.
    Michael: You should have seen the look on her face when she thought I was a lesbian.
    George: "Lesbian"? You just said gay.
    Michael: No, no, no — Sandy thinks I'm gay, Julie thinks I'm a lesbian.
    George: I thought Dorothy was supposed to be straight?
    Michael: Dorothy is straight. Tonight Les, the sweetest, nicest man in the world asked me to marry him.
    George: A guy named Les wants you to marry him?
    Michael: No, no, no — he wants to marry Dorothy.
    George: Does he know she's a lesbian?
    Michael: Dorothy's not a lesbian.
    George: I know that, does he know that?
    Michael: Know what?
    George: That, er, I... I don't know.
  • Love Martyr: Seems to be a serial trope for Sandy, who has a history of accepting shabby treatment from her boyfriends, Michael included. One upside of her breakup with him is that this might be in the process of changing.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: A platonic, non-superhero variation of the trope. Julie harbors nothing but disdain for Michael, but develops a strong friendship with Dorothy.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Julie assumes Dorothy to be a lesbian after she attempts to kiss her during a particularly intimate moment between the two of them. Not only is Dorothy actually a man in disguise, but said man explicitly states that he is playing her as a straight woman.
  • Money, Dear Boy: invokedIn-Universe, Michael's reason for taking a soap opera job.
  • Off the Rails: Regularly with Dorothy, much to Ron's indignation; but unfortunately for him, Dorothy's alterations work, i.e. are hugely popular with the in-universe soap opera audience; evidenced by the significant jump in ratings after "Emily's" appearance.
  • Oh, Crap!: Michael is informed that Emily is going to be made a regular character, meaning he'll be stuck pretending to be a woman for the foreseeable future. He gulps while keeping a smile frozen on his face.
    • A milder version earlier when he learns Emily will be kissing Dr. Brewster on the show.
  • Older Alter Ego: Dorothy appears to be somewhat older than Michael and behaves accordingly, acting as a stern-yet-motherly figure to her female co-stars. Notably, the three male characters who express attraction toward her are all over 60. Truth in Television, as it is common for male drag performers to play older characters to accommodate their sharper facial structures.
  • Playing a Tree: George mentions that Michael was given the role of a tomato in a commercial:
    George: I can't even set you up for a commercial. You played a tomato for 30 seconds - they went a half a day over schedule because you wouldn't sit down.
    Michael: Of course. It was illogical.
    George: YOU WERE A TOMATO! A tomato doesn't have logic! A tomato can't move!
    Michael: That's what I said! So if he can't move, how's he gonna sit down, George? I was a stand-up tomato: a juicy, sexy, beefsteak tomato. Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off-Broadway. I did the best tomato, the best cucumber... I did an endive salad that knocked the critics on their ass.
  • Pun: The Title Theme Tune tells Tootsie to "roll", and calls Tootsie "sweet".
  • Precision F-Strike: The show's producer mutters "Son of a bitch..." when "Dorothy" outs himself as Michael, in a combination of amazement, appreciation and annoyance.
  • The Prima Donna: Michael's defining characteristic, which is why no one in New York or Los Angeles will hire him.
    Michael: You want me to stand up and walk to the center of the stage while I'm dying?
    Director: Well, I know it's awkward, but we'll just have to do it.
    Michael: Why?
    Director: I just told you. Now do it!
    Michael: Because you say so?
    Director: Yes, love.
    Michael: Not with me as Tolstoy. (walks off stage)
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The character of George was written and/or cast with Sydney Pollack, the director, playing the part at Hoffman's suggestion, to incorporate some of the real-life tension between the two of them into the movie itself.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The "Working Girl March" by Dave Grusin was recycled by Mark Goodson Productions for three different pilots: 1983's Star Words and Body Language, and 1986's On a Roll. Only Body Language went to series and as a result, Edd Kalehoff composed a Suspiciously Similar Song (and in turn, the ticket plug that Kalehoff composed would be reused for Classic Concentration starting in 1987).
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The reveal of Emily Kimberly to be her brother Edward Kimberly on Southwest General was based on a real plot twist on the soap General Hospital, in which the character Sally Armitage was revealed to really be Max Hedges.
  • Satellite Love Interest: In-universe. The women of Southwest General all appear to be oversexed bimbos who exist to either support their male co-stars through their personal conflicts or to be the source of said conflicts due to being unable to control their romantic urges when around them. Dorothy's decision to subvert this and play her character as an uncompromising and independent woman propels her into the position of Breakout Character and seemingly causes the rest of the female cast to begin getting portrayed with more nuance and dignity.
  • Self-Deprecation: It's easy to see a lot of Michael's behavior in Dustin Hoffman's career.
  • Set Behind the Scenes: The film is about an actor from New York. He auditions for roles. He acts in a TV series.
  • Shocking Voice Identity Reveal: When "Dorothy" approaches George at the Russian Tea Room:
    Michael: (Dorothy voice) George, George, (natural voice) it's Michael Dorsey. Your favorite client? (Dorothy voice) How are ya?
  • The Show Must Go On:
    • Michael manages to turn his personal secret into a part of the (live-broadcast) show, thus forcing the executives to pretend they always knew about it and giving him a way out of his contract.
    • Even though Sandy's been treated like shit by Michael, and even after she finds out he cheated on her with Julie and she was actually in a loveless relationship with the guy who took the part she desperately wanted, she continues as a co-star with him in a play he's producing. Chiefly because she's a desperate actress and knows a good part when she sees one. She does make it clear that from now on they are only going to be co-workers, not friends.
  • Soap Within a Show: During his tenure on Southwest General, people fall in and out of comas, nurses have passionate affairs with both doctors and patients, and characters die because the actors asked for more money.
  • Stylistic Suck: From what we see of it, Southwest General is stereotypical soap opera schlock with outlandish plotlines and a leading man well past his expiration date who needs to be fed every single line. Dorothy's nuanced portrayal of a strong and uncompromising woman in a position of authority, combined with her increasing reliance on ad-libbing over following the scripts, breaths new life into the show and turns her into a national phenomenon.
  • Sue Donym: Michael Dorsey flips his own name around and effeminates "Dorsey" to create his new alter ego, Dorothy Michaels.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Michael outing himself as Dorothy on live television has major repercussions on several levels, with both the people he bonded with while playing the persona and the viewing public justifiably feeling a personal sense of betrayal and the film and television industry blacklisting him from ever working again for committing long-term fraud. While the ending suggests that he will be able to win back both Julie and Les' love and trust, it also makes it clear that doing so will take effort on his part.
  • Tears of Remorse: In a 2013 interview on Good Morning America, Hoffman reflected on Dorothy's beauty being average rather than bombshell gorgeous, and admitted that had he met her in public, he would not have talked to her. He wept when he realized how many people he missed having good times and conversations with, just because they weren't up to his or society's standards of beauty.
  • Theatre is True Acting: Michael Dorsey is a talented, effective stage actor who drives everyone in New York nuts with his perfectionism. However, while he saves the best of himself for the stage he knows that screen work is necessary to earn a living, and even tells his agent to get him work in commercials and radio to help finance an upcoming play (which doesn't work, because he's managed to alienate Hollywood with his behavior too). He also doesn't look down on one of his friends for auditioning for a soap opera, knowing she's trying to survive and get ahead in acting too.
  • Throw It In:
    • Dorothy does this a lot in-universe, to Ron's consternation. Out of universe, Michael's rant about playing vegetables (see Playing a Tree above) was not in the script and was improvised by Dustin Hoffman. Sydney Pollack's look of consternation in the scene is real.
    • How the soap treats the improvised reveal by Dorothy Michaels — as something they'd planned all along, according to Julie.
  • Title Drop: Ron calls "Dorothy" this once, which causes Michael to snap.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: This is very much Jeff's philosophy towards his playwriting.
    Jeff: I don't like it when people come up to me after my plays and say, "I really dug your message, man." Or, "I really dug your play, man, I cried." You know. I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later, and they say, "I saw your play. What happened?"
  • Twelfth Night Adventure: Since no one in New York will hire him, Michael Dorsey dresses as a woman and gets a part on a popular soap. As a man acting as a woman, he brings a unique perspective to the part of Emily Kimberly, and she becomes an inspiration to women everywhere.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: But not for the usual reason.
    Dorothy: (under his breath) It's Michael Dorsey, okay? Your favorite client. How are you? Last time you got me a job was a tomato.
    George: Oh, God! I begged you to get some therapy.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Michael talks about Julie's relationship with the director.
    Michael: She's really a very, very attractive girl. And she's no dummy either. But for the life of me, I cannot understand what she's doin' hangin' around with that director. He treats her like she's, just nothin'!... I don't like the way he condescends to me either. He calls me "sweetheart". He calls me "honey". He doesn't even know my name. He calls her "baby". He pushed me around today, I'm tellin' ya, if I didn't have the dress on, I'd have kicked his arrogant ass in...
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We only see Sandy again once after she and Michael break up, when she sees Michael reveal herself on live TV and screams in horror, but the movie doesn't seem to care what happens to her in the end, despite getting the worst treatment out of any of the major characters. She announces to Michael that despite Michael seriously fucking her over (for a part she'd never have been able to get), she'll do Jeff's play because she's a professional. (Translation: She's a desperate out-of-work actress.) The only hint that she and Michael have reconciled is a billboard announcing that they're starring together in Jeff's play.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Dorothy Michaels is a very convincing woman (Dustin Hoffman apparently tried her out at his daughter's parent-teacher night and no one suspected) and a good person, fiercely devoted to both acting and those in her life and feeling like she has something to say about being a woman. Jeff, however, suspects Michael isn't just doing it for the money.
    Jeff: I appreciate your doing this, but it is just for the money, isn't it? It's not just so you can wear these little outfits?
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: When asked if her character intentionally gave an overdose to a woman, April shrugs and says, "I have no idea. I don't write this shit."
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Michael uses all of these when becoming Dorothy, transforming himself into a middle-aged Southern woman.
  • Woken Up at an Ungodly Hour: After the soap producers decide to extend "Dorothy"'s contract for another year, a desperate Michael calls up his agent at an indecent hour to find a way to get out of the contract.
  • Women Are Wiser: Michael muses Dorothy is smarter than him. The trope is averted with Sandy, who is a complete neurotic mess, and Julie can't seem to find a partner good for her.
  • Your Other Left: When Dorothy is doing her camera test for "Southwest General," she mistakenly thinks the director is speaking to her when he is telling the cameras to turn left and right.


Video Example(s):


I'm EDWARD Kimberly!

As Dorothy Michaels, Michael Dorsey finds himself the professional rival of one of his good friends, the matronly confidant of the woman he loves, and the object of desire of multiple men, until he unmasks himself on live television. Some take it better than others.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / UnsettlingGenderReveal

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