Picks and Pans Review: Tootsie

updated 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

They've held out until the end of the year to release 1982's best comedy, but Tootsie is such a giddy, glorious surprise, why quibble? Dustin Hoffman plays a mostly unemployed New York actor with a reputation for being difficult. When his agent, sassily portrayed by Tootsie's director, Sydney Pollack, tells him no one will work with him, Hoffman sets out to prove otherwise. Disguised as a woman, Hoffman auditions for a TV soap and wins the role of a hospital administrator despite some reservation on the part of the soap's egomaniac director, Dabney Coleman. Complications ensue when he falls for the soap's star, Jessica Lange. She mistakes that look in his eye for lesbianism, while her smitten father, Charles Durning, sees it as directed at him and offers Hoffman a ring. Makeup turns Hoffman into a convincing woman, though his 5 o'clock shadow makes her something less than a 10. Despite the sound of it, though, Tootsie is not just Some Like It Hoffman or even Dustin/Dustina. Hoffman does more than wriggle into girdle and heels; he gets inside a woman's character. Part of Tootsie's considerable achievement is that the humor is aimed at Hoffman's struggle with makeup and clothes, never at the woman he plays—a Southerner with a compassionate heart and a feminist edge. Hoffman himself comes to realize this woman "is the best part of me." Resourceful screenwriter Larry (M*A*S*H) Gelbart and Pollack never falter; they combine an accurate, affectionate tribute to actors with a zany send-up of soaps and a stylish romantic comedy. And what performances! Bill Murray, Coleman and Durning are expert farceurs. Ten' (One From the Heart) Garr shines as a frazzled, too-often-rejected actress. Lange reveals a delectable way with a wisecrack. But Tootsie belongs to Hoffman, who gives it a triumphant freshness that is at once funny, elating and emotionally satisfying. (PG)

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