Directed by Sidney Pollack
Story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange
Michael Dorsey is an out-of-work actor with a reputation for being extremely talented, but a pain in the ass to work with. His agent, portrayed in a wonderful uncredited performance by the late Sydney Pollack, can't get him work. In an act of desperation, Dorsey dresses up as a woman and auditions for the role of a female hospital administrator on a popular soap opera. His character instantly becomes a sensation, he falls in love with his costar, and he has to attempt to keep his cover from being blown. This is the part where I would normally say "Hilarity ensues," but that does this remarkable movie a disservice.
It wouldn't be a lie; the film is funny for its entirety. And all the jokes come from the situations. The best comedy, I feel, is funny without going out of its way to be so. In this movie, no one does anything because it would be funny; everything is funny because they would do it. And it all centers around the fact that Dustin Hoffman is able to portray Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels with equal skill. That is crucial to the movie's success. If Dorothy weren't believable, the whole movie would seem to revolve around a gimic, and, worse than that, we would dismiss all the people around her as fools and incompetents. All the parts of the movie that are touching and bittersweet, such as the side story where Jessica Lange's father, Les, falls in love with Dorothy, would simply be for our amusement, and wouldn't forge any sort of emotional connection. These are real people, people we can relate to, and ultimately, people we care about.
Beyond that, the movie is smart. There are clever commentaries on sexism strewn throughout. Dorothy is an intelligent, strong, capable woman, who stands up for herself. There's a definitive split between Dorothy and Michael. At one point, Dorothy improvises some dialogue, and the director chastises her for it. She apologises and promises not to do it again, whereas Michael would have fought the director into the ground. That night, reflecting on the incident, Michael says to his roommate, a perfectly restrained and never-better Bill Murray, "I think Dorothy might be smarter than me." It's moments like that which remind you this is a special movie.
I've never wanted a couple to get together at the end of a movie so much in my life. And I've never been so unsure as to whether or not it would happen, either. It's a romantic comedy, so by the rules of the genre, they have to end up together, but I wasn't convinced they would, and it's a credit to the movie that it never feels formulaic. So badly did I want Julie to forgive Michael, so badly did I want them to kiss, that I may have yelled at the t.v., just a bit. And the film knows better than to give us that moment. All we know is that they walk off together down the street, with their arms around one another. What a wonderful, wonderful film.