There’s a handful of movies that I’ve seen (at least, a handful of good ones) that are actually about the media. From classics to “Sunset Boulevard” and “Network” to more modern films like “Ed Wood” or “The Artist”, some of the most entertaining movies ever may be about the film or television industries and the people in them. And often, they deal with that in a comedic light—because, you know, if you were going to make a movie about the industry you worked in, about all the little things that ticked you off, you’d probably want to satirize it too. And so we come to “Tootsie”, Sydney Pollack’s 1982 comedy with Dustin Hoffman, another movie from the American Film Institute top 100 list that I got to see over the summer.
Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, who is apparently a very well-known actor in Hollywood, who used to be much more popular, doing plays and shows and films in the past. Now, he coaches and does commercials—which I guess is not good. So he goes to his agent George (played by Pollack) who tells him flat-out: he doesn’t work well with others. No one will hire him, and they certainly won’t give him money to produce a play written by his friend Jeff (Bill Murray). So when Michael finds out that his girlfriend Sandy (Teri Garr) didn’t get a part in a soap opera being filmed there in New York, Michael feels he has no other choice.
And pretty soon, Dorothy Michaels (Hoffman’s—or Dorsey’s alter ego) walks into the soap opera audition with enough charisma to get the part. But soon, the other cast and crew start to feel she has a little too much charisma, because of her strong feminist attitude. But over time, as Dorothy’s soap opera character Emily Kimberly stays longer and longer on the show, Emily/Dorothy/Michael becomes a sensation—not just to audiences, but also to the other cast and crew. One man, John Van Horn (George Gaynes), plays an older man on the soap opera who continually tries to hit on Dorothy. Another man, Les Nichols (Charles Durning), meets Dorothy eventually and starts falling in love.
How does he meet her? He meets her when his daughter Julie (Jessica Lange), another actress on the show, brings her home one weekend after the two of them have become close friends. And Julie is where Michael starts feeling conflicted. Julie has no identity of his true identity, but he is starting to fall for her, and being with her disguised as Dorothy is not a very fun situation—especially when her father is trying to make time with him. (Oh, and while you’re probably thinking of it, yes, there are a handful of homosexual jokes in the movie. Not many, but a few. I won’t go into detail here.)
But eventually, Michael finds the opportunity to reveal himself. When the soap opera producers want to extend his contract another year (which Michael certainly wasn’t planning on), and when the show has to be live to tape one day, Michael finds a solution. After making some bogus speech about how Emily Kimberly actually has been dead for a time, he takes off his wig, lowers his voice, and claims he is Edward Kimberly. Sandy and Les are shocked. The director is amazed. Van Horn is ashamed. And Julie is ticked, punching Michael in the stomach once they are off the air.
A few weeks later, Michael, now having received all the funds he needs to produce this play, is able to find Les and Julie and make amends with each of them. It takes Julie a little longer to let go of her grudge.
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.
And as he asks for them to start over, as friends, they walk together down the streets of New York.
I’ll be honest, this is a pretty funny movie. And even with the strange sexual issues going on here, this is still a pretty interesting movie about friendship and how to love someone. The best line of the movie, in my opinion, is Michael’s line near the end: “I was a better man with you, as a woman, than I ever was with a woman, as a man.” Maybe this means that when he, Michael Dorsey who was living so arrogantly, loved someone just for who they were rather than for what he could get out of their relationship, that relationship meant a whole lot more.
This is called unconditional love—when you love someone for who he or she is rather than for what you may benefit from. On the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples that they should even love those who hate them, because God commands it: “But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” (Matthew 5:44, 46a) We may get an earthly reward, Jesus tells us, but not an eternal one—unless we love those who may not love us back.
My prayer for you today is that you would find opportunities to love those who persecute you, for that is love with a heavenly and an eternal reward.