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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, can never get 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 dress in drag and audition for the part himself. After initially being dismissed as too feminine, "Dorothy Michaels" lands the part and gains immense popularity with the 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 staged 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:

  • 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: Although not all characters find Dorothy attractive, she is proposed to by a man.
  • 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"
  • Big "NO!": Sandy's aghast reaction to Michael revealing he's Dorothy on live TV.
  • Comically Missing the Point: "Does Jeff know?"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: In-Universe. "Dorothy"'s character becomes extremely popular, leading to her becoming a regular character.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Inksuit Actor: Michael Dorsey pretty much IS Dustin Hoffman, albeit much less successful.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's not a "soap opera", it's a "daytime drama".
  • 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.
  • 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 lovers.
  • Large Ham: Sandy's speech when she is told about "the other woman".
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Production 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sue Donym: Michael Dorsey flips his own name around and effeminates "Dorsey" to create his new alter ego, Dorothy Michaels.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop: Ron calls "Dorothy" this once, which causes Michael to snap.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Jeff believes so. He doesn't want people to tell him they liked his plays. He wants them to ask him "I saw your play — what happened?!" invoked
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Michael uses all of these when becoming Dorothy, transforming himself into a middle-aged Southern woman.
  • Women Are Wiser: Michael muses Dorothy is smarter than him.
  • 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):


Les and Dorothy

Les finds "Dorothy" attractive.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / AttractiveBentGender

Media sources:

Main / AttractiveBentGender