Monday, December 17, 2012

Gender Bender

Dustin Hoffman to Geena Davis: What kind of mother would I be if I didn't give my girls tits ... tips?

Almost 15 years to the day after the debut of Dustin Hoffman's breakthrough film, "The Graduate," the moviegoing public was treated to a performance for which Hoffman had no apparent experience.

Of course, when Hoffman made "The Graduate," he wasn't exactly a perfect fit. He was 30 years old with one year of junior college under his belt, playing a recent college graduate.

But that was nothing compared to the movie he made that premiered 30 years ago today — "Tootsie."

No actor has a hit every time out, but, in the 15–year period between "The Graduate" and "Tootsie," Hoffman enjoyed what can charitably be called more than his share of success. He got four Oscar nominations (one win) and appeared in five movies that were nominated for Best Picture.

That bears absolutely no resemblance to the character he played in "Tootsie."

That character, Michael Dorsey, was an actor — but that really was where any similarity between Hoffman and the character he played ended.

Michael Dorsey was a struggling actor. Like Hoffman, he had a great deal of talent, but he was hard to get along with, and folks just didn't want to work with him.

That's not an exaggeration. His reputation was so bad that he had to assume an entirely new identity (and a different gender) to find work.

Enter Dorothy Michaels.

As Dorothy, he was able to secure steady employment on a soap opera, and his masculine attitude (interpreted as a brand of feminism) was a surprise hit with the show's viewers.

But there were down sides.

One of Dorothy's co–stars was attracted to her, as was the father of another co–star (Jessica Lange) with whom Michael desired a relationship.

To be sure, there was some gender bending going on.

And what I liked best about "Tootsie" was its honesty. It acknowledged that both genders labor under misconceptions about the other — and both have something to learn from each other.

"I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man," Hoffman told Lange at the end. "I just gotta learn to do it without the dress."

That sums things up pretty well.