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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Drag queen (Tootsie)

When it comes to drag comedies, one thing's sure. Farcical wig-flipping laughter that is OTT sometimes, yet a whole lot of fun. I've been in splits watching the goofy antics of Joe and Jerry in Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959) as well as Armand and Albert in Mike Nichols' The Birdcage (1996). The recent entrant to this comedy list of mine is Sydney Pollack's Tootsie (1982), a film I've heard only good things about. It stars Dustin Hoffman, who redefines versatility with every role, Jessica Lange, who I always thought oozed raw sex appeal and the straight-faced Bill Murray (one of my favourites) whose very face is enough to induce laughter.
Tootsie is acclaimed as a trendsetter for many drag farces that use charade and camouflages as a weapon to achieve an end. But, for reasons I'm yet to decipher, Tootsie did not have as heavy an impression on me. Yes, Hoffman was superlative, Lange was gorgeous, Murray was spot on, Teri Garr was hilarious and the romance angle well thought out. It also incorporated David Grusin's original Something's tellin' me it might be you (a beautiful love song). It had the right portion of tenderness positioned dexterously with the gags. The right sensitivity with the absurdity. And the correct dosage of social comment juxtaposed with the farce. But...
Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), the struggling actor on the verge of turning 40, is in a tight position. No one in New York wants to hire him because of his difficult and demanding nature. Even this agent, George Fields (Sydney Pollack) gives up on him. After four months without a job, he hears of an opening in the soap opera Southwest General from his friend Sandy Lester (Teri Garr), who tries out for a role but doesn't get it. In desperation, he cross-dresses, auditions as 'Dorothy Michaels' and wins the part. And thus start a series of thunderous gags, though presented in a very subtle manner. Hoffman's charade is perfect. He sure looks like a woman (and sometime like an old Jennifer Aniston!).
Dorsey sees this as a temporary job to pay bills, but he proves to be so popular as Ellie Kimberly, the feisty hospital administrator that, to his dismay, the producers sign him to a long-term contract. Exacerbating matters further, Dorsey falls for Julie Nichols (Jessca Lange), the lead actress of the soap (I find funny that she introduces herself as the 'hospital slut'). While he is pained and jealous to see Nichols having an affair with the soap director Ron Carlisle (Dabney Coleman), a sexist and amoral man, he is in a fix as to how to make his true state known to Nichols, who floors him with her charm. It is quite exciting to see how Dorsey wins Nichols' confidence and love, after a few initial advances go horribly wrong. The fun multiflies when the soap's lead protagonist, John Van Horn (George Gaynes) and Nichols' widowed father Leslie (Charles Durning) fall crazily in love with the smart and sassy Dorothy Michaels.
I loved Dustin Hoffman (but obviously) as Michael Dorsey/ Dorothy Michaels, especially when he breaks into his fast Southern accented dialogues. Hoffman is a master when he moves those manicured palms swiftly and twitches his painted lips to perfection. His heavily madeup eyes are attractive. I love some of the dialogues. For instance, when Dorsey is sitting with his friend Jeff (Murray) munching fast food, he stops Jeff from giving him too much because he has to check his weight! Then he clarifies Nichols' doubt regarding his makeup saying he has a lip-hair condition! The best impromptu gags happen during the shoots when he changes the script according to his own mind and plans! Slapping Van Horn and giving Carlisle a piece of his mind, Dorothy Michaels is one fiesty damsel. Again, it is her Southern twang and heavily modulated voice that deserve whistles...
The most hilarious scene is when Van Horn comes to hit on Dorothy. Van Horn pounces on her to plant one sweet kiss and Dorothy is fighting like an angry cat to get out of his grip. Uproarious. Then Jeff comes in, is stupefied and says, "You slut!"
The scenes between Dorothy and Nichols are soft and sweet. Nichols is this timid woman, underrated by Carlisle, who is most happy patronising her and cheating on her. It is with Dorothy that she is most free. Dorothy is the person who realises that Nichols deserves so much love. She aught to be with someone who respects her and values her. Not with someone who hoodwinks her to sleep with other women (April, played by Geena Davis, who appears mostly in her lingerie and has just a few words to speak!). Dorsey falls hopelessly in love with Nichols as Dorothy and he admits that he was a better man with her as a woman. Very touching indeed...
Jessica Lange is one hell of an attractive woman and it is but obvious that the men around her can't help but notice that. But it her soft and sensitive side as a woman and a mother that is eyecatching. Though I feel that Lange's character could have been even more well etched, she was a good foil to Dorsey's flamboyant personality. The woman is surely pleasing to the eye, husky voice, sexy body language, ravishing smile, billowing blond hair, et al.
Despite all these positives (and more), I have to admit that The Birdcage is a film that I'd prefer watching over Tootsie. Its sidecracking fun, superb performances, sensitive approach towards Armand and Albert's relationship and continuous comedy makes it so much more finger-licking good. Hoffman, Murray, Garr, Lange and Gaynes is great. But for me, Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Christine Baranski, Dianne West, Dan Futterman and Hank Azaria make for a deadly combo any day, any time... 


  1. You're right. He does look like an old Jennifer Aniston, i.e. an older version of the 18 year old Rachel with the big nose.

    I liked 'Birdcage' a lot, and our own Indian version 'Chachi 420' was hilarious.

    Haven't seen 'Tootsie'.

  2. @Banno: Doesn't he? The moment I saw him as Dorothy Michaels, I knew he does. Birdcage is soooo funny though I prefer Mrs Doubtfire over its Hindi remake.
    See Tootsie once. I think, the immensely talented Dustin Hoffman deserves a watch :)

  3. I'd heard so much about Tootsie, but got around to finally seeing it a couple of months back. And yes, really not all that it's made out to be. I believe this is listed as one of the ten funniest films ever made in Hollywood. I can't see how! Okay, bits of it are funny, but it's not that hilarious. I liked Some Like it Hot much more when it came to comic capers because of cross-dressing. Have got to see The Birdcage though!

  4. @Dustedoff: I find Birdcage so funny that everytime I see it, I have a tummy ache. For, laughing too much. Isn't Joe much cuter than Dorsey?
    Yes this film is funny in parts, but for me, certainly not one of the ten funniest films ever made :(