I’m officially somebody’s great aunt Mildred, because sometimes I can’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race without thinking of Tootsie. In terms of gender-bending comedies of 1982, it’s officially my second favorite (You go, Victor/Victoria!), but it’s nonetheless a first-rate and utterly rewatchable comedy about sexism, show business, and, uh, me laughing. Because it is so, so funny — from the one-liners to the reaction shots to the plot twists, Tootsie is basically a teachable crash course in all things hilarious, so much so that I can forgive Jessica Lange‘s unjustified Oscar win over my scarlet dame Ms. Lesley Ann Warren.
The short synopsis: Dustin Hoffman is a bastardly New York actor named Michael Dorsey who dresses in drag to snag a part on a soap opera, and after he lands the role, he discovers that he’s a righteous, cool, and powerful lady. Can he keep the bizarre, but profitable act up? Because that’s a lot of foundation and ankle-length dresses stolen from the set of Nine to Five. It could be impossible.
Tootsie is just a gem. Here are five reasons it may be the best movie ever.
1. The insanity of Dorothy Michaels’ getup.
Let us never forget the radiance of Dorothy Michaels. That hair is just the most perfect, root beer-colored mushroom cloud I’ve ever seen. It’s like a Branson version of Streisand‘s ‘fro in The Main Event — except Dorothy here is dressed less like a boxing manager and more like a geriatric prize girl who has a right mind to kick your ass. Though the movie coasts through a number of interesting themes like chauvinism, honesty, and integrity, the magnetism of Dorothy Michaels is the movie’s greatest gift. She’s a Mrs. Doubtfire whose most farcical moments happen in her small reactions, her subtle indignity that sometimes balloons into rage. You want to believe this woman exists, even if she’s just Dustin Hoffman flashing a big, goofy Stan Laurel grin in Tammie Brown’s wardrobe. But of course, the movie’s amazing conclusion assures us that Dorothy does exist, and for some reason I feel like she’s the Mary Poppins of the ’80s. Just as cheery and wise, but not as gravity-defiant thanks to the heaviness of her weave.
2. There is no incorrect answer when choosing the movie’s best line.
Seriously, when does the funny begin or end in Tootsie? The rate of funny is almost Airplane!-level consistent, except this movie dares to exist in the real (or at least a somewhat believable) world. I cackle when George Fields (played by director Sydney Pollack, who also gave us my glorious fave They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) tells Michael that his roommate’s play is no good because, according to him, “Nobody wants to pay $20 to see people living next to chemical waste! They can see that in New Jersey!” I like Dorothy Michaels’ nervy threat to her clod director, “Listen, you take your hands off me or I’ll knee your balls right through the roof of your mouth. Is that enough of a threat?” But I think the obvious choice for the film’s greatest line is Michael’s climactic moment of reconciliation with the blindsided Julie (Jessica Lange), when he confesses, “But 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?” The amount of relationships I’ve tried to save with that one. Yeesh.
3. Ah, believably over-the-top sexism. Thank you, the early ’80s.
Dabney Coleman really monopolized the chauvinist prick market in ’80s cinema. How did he achieve this? I assume the fact that his mouth looks incomplete without a dastardly moustache comes into play. I assume his penchant for evil-looking khaki outerwear helps a bit. And let’s not forget that his voice is reminiscent of every jackass Little League coach who ever called me “big guy.” Shudders. That’s Mitt Romney-level spooky.