Tootsie (1982): Notes on Authenticity

Public Lives, Public Masks

Our journey to become and be each day the best we can be may be likened to a journey to be more authentic. “authenticity” is so much on everybody’s lips nowadays that it has even become a cliché.  As social beings, we fall short more often than not of this great value, this ideal. Is total authenticity possible, desirable even? Is authenticity a myth?  [Maybe the baby is the most authentic of all beings, in that case not very different from animals. I know some psychologist or philosopher who has debated on this issue before. Maybe for another post. Wonderful… if babies did not need phonies to look after them.]

As adults, most of the time we put on a mask that separates our public lives from who we are inside, where our real wants and needs are voiced. ‘Hey, I have a family to feed, a mortgage to pay, 2 cars, cats and dogs and whatnot’: some other voice. Indeed, our social/economic roles and cultural norms prevent that voice to be heard: we are capable of doing anything, go to any length, to keep the love and security we needed as children, which often translates as a pursuit of status/prestige and therefore success when we grow up, or do we? Even a life of pretense seems preferable to the conflict that arises between our own desire, our values and other people’s expectations of us or their approval… or we may even opt out from life one way or another. [Of course, there are people who downshift or rock the boat once they become aware of this inner voice, middle age crisis they call it: I reckon it’s at least 20 years I’m on this one]

Tootsie: Comedy of Errors

One quirky cross-dressing comedy that dramatizes the conflicts of “how authentic to be?” is Tootsie, it might be you.

True, it is an early eighties comedy (yuppies, aids outbreak etc…) but has not dated one bit (or maybe a little: no Internet, social media, cell phones…), probably because of its timeless old comedic plot and its bold, unconventional themes of gender confusion and sexual politics, still unresolved [resolvable?]. What would you do if you were a passionate theater teacher, out-of-work actor and you’d finally got a job, challenging at that:  the opportunity to impersonate a woman? You’d take it. Right. That’s exactly what Michael Dorsey does. His life from jobless, ‘prima dona’ actor that no one would ever hire anymore, to stardom with a role as Tootsie in a soap opera multiplies the comedy of errors:

-his persona as Michael Dorsey as Dorothy Michaels

-his persona as Michael Dorsey as Dorothy Michaels as Tootsie/Emily Kimberley as Edward Kimberley

[Dustin Hofmann as Michael Dorsey as Dorothy Michaels as Tootsie as Edward Kimberley!!!!]

When some are content with double lives, his are tripled and even quadrupled, as he falls in love with Julie his partner on the soap, and is proposed in marriage by her father, Les; who both know Michael only as Dorothy, respectively Julie’s best friend and Les’s date [without counting all the other men that fall in love with Michael] Of course, he cannot possibly be genuinely an hypocrite and a best friend at the same time, and yet he is both. Grand!

Being One’s Own Person: The Path of Authenticity

When masks fall

The imbroglio situations obviously culminate to a point where Michael is somewhat faced to choose between friendship and fame and fortune, even if it means losing friendship (and maybe love) by doubly revealing who he truly is both in the soap as Edward Kimberly, Tootsie’s brother and Michael Dorsey, not Dorothy Michaels, to his future-ex friends.

The whole film can be seen as Michael Dorsey’s process of developing a more complex identity, of becoming more nuanced in his relationships, therefore more genuine. If the scene of the catastrophic unveiling of his true identity is spectacular, the values revealed in the last scene are bold about how complex an identity may be(come): he cannot keep silent anymore about how he feels and he risks contact as Michael Dorsey, for the first time with Julie*, in the very last scene of the film. Awesome!
* (second time, really, without Julie knowing he is repeating her lines on dating: a big flop for him),

During this meaningful conversation, Julie reveals that she misses Dorothy, Michael’s persona. He answers: “You don’t have to. She’s right here. I’m Dorothy.” Michael Dorsey, has integrated the persona he created (Dorothy Michaels) and made it coincide with his personal self as Michael Dorsey [multiple selves in one unified ‘I’]One can say that Dorothy becomes his anima (in Jungian terms), the feminine in him. Julie, who has shown to have the knack to choosing the wrong guy for herself, is touched in a way that has meaning for both of them. So many levels! Enjoy.

TransScript last scene:
Michael: Julie, can I call you sometime ? Look, I don’t want to hold you up. I just did it for the work. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody — especially you.
Julie: I miss Dorothy.
Michael: You don’t have to. She’s right here. And she misses you. Look, you don’t know me from Adam, but I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man. Know what I mean ? I’ve just got to learn to do it without the dress. I mean, at this point in our relationship there might be an advantage to my wearing pants. The hard part’s over, you know. We were already good friends.
Julie: Will you loan me that little yellow outfit ?
Michael: Which one ?
Julie: The Halston.
M:Oh, no! You’ll ruin it.You’ll spill wine all over it.
J:I will not.
M:I’ll loan it to you, but you gotta give it back. It’s my favourite….
J :What are you gonna use it for?

The Unattractive Woman

Of course, Jessica Lange is an attractive woman, Dorothy Michaels is not and that’s all more the point. Listen to Dustin Hoffman talking about himself as an unattractive woman, moved and moving. After all, this is no comedy.

3 thoughts on “Tootsie (1982): Notes on Authenticity

  1. I opened this up much earlier, and have been referring back since then. One thing I can say about you Michal, is that your posts are always well layered, with practical information, and well chosen media clips (very well chosen). Several blogs have made me slow down and really absorb. This is one.

    I am an 80’s child. Identity crisis was loud then. Rock bands wore make-up, and didactic comedy had a place in Hollywood.

    Thanks again, Michal. No foolin’ 😉


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