Dustin Hoffman Is The Best Actor Ever

“Tootsie” went through multiple permutations before it landed on director Sidney Pollack’s desk. Screenwriters came and went, as did the great Hal Ashby, who faced legal action stemming from unfinished editorial duties on his previous film. Stars such as Peter Sellers and Michael Caine circled the project early in its development. Everyone could smell a hit. But only Pollack and Dustin Hoffman viewed it as more than a cross-dressing lark.

This one hits close to home for Hoffman. Michael Dorsey is a struggling New York City actor whose difficult “method” reputation has all but blacklisted him from steady work. He teaches acting on the side, and seems to love his students, but he’s terrified that he’s aged past his big break. Alas, there’s no Benjamin Braddock out there for him. Realizing his temperament has rendered him unhirable, Dorsey doubles down on method and becomes struggling actress Dorothy Michaels.

All great actors possess deep reserves of empathy, and it’s clear at the outset that Dorsey has bitterly busted his antennae. But as Dorothy, he’s suddenly dealing with new, albeit toxic stimuli, and he is instantly reborn as a performer. Emotionally, he’s playing with house money; he can challenge sexist directors because his livelihood as a man, stunted as it is, is not at stake. So he hurls himself into the part and, Dorothy, by standing up for herself, gets a role on a network soap opera. Now the real immersion begins.

People love Dorothy for her forthrightness and kindness because Dorsey is playing her as a hero. His coworkers are his audience, and they’re rooting for Dorothy to keep sticking it to Dabney Coleman’s sexist director (who’s carrying on an improper, mentally abusive relationship with Jessica Lange’s ingenue, Julie Nichols). At a certain point, being Dorothy becomes a crusade for Dorsey, which is wonderful until Lange’s widowed father, Les (Charles Durning), falls in love with her. Dorsey’s deception isn’t so cute anymore, and when he finally breaks character, we’re heartbroken for Les.

Moreover, while Dorsey has learned a painful lesson in the indignity of being a woman in show business, we’re left wondering if one man’s enlightenment was worth all this emotional wreckage.

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