Tuesday, March 29, 2016
I'm a better reviewer with you as an audience than I am as an audience with me as a reviewer. Does that make any sense?
So this is one of those fun films that seems both contemporary and somewhat dated at the same time. The biggest thing dating it is, of course, the 80's fashion, but there's also a certain sensibility that doesn't seem like it would fly today. A man cross-dressing to get a part, and subsequently doing a really good job playing a woman wouldn't be treated as breaking sexist stereotypes today, but today would be looked at as sexist. Which strikes me as odd, since through seeing things from both sides leads Michael Dorsey to become a more fully rounded human being. But some would probably suggest this film is transphobic because Michael Dorsey does not actually have any form of gender dysphoria - he is just broke and he has a bad reputation as difficult as a man. But he learns quickly in the movie that his alter ego, Dorothy, is "smarter" than he is, as she doesn't waste time arguing - she simply does things her way and reaps the benefits or the punishments as they come.
I suppose part of this is an odd film, in part because it takes place over such a strange timeline. We're told that the character of Emily Kimberely has been on the soap for a few weeks, and yet she's become a sensation and is on the cover of a bunch of magazines. Then again, I wasn't alive for most of the 80's, and I don't know if soap opera stars ever did become big break-out hits to the point of being featured on big magazines. But it is a fun little montage, watching Dustin Hoffman going between his schlubby out-of-work actor to his polished Southern lady who manages to attract both a father and a daughter, and an actor, and several other people. The nice thing with it is that we're never supposed to believe "Dorothy Michaels" is a pretty woman. This isn't like Breakfast on Pluto, where Cillian Murphy played a stunningly beautiful transgender woman. Dustin Hoffman is many things, but "pretty" isn't one of them. But the audience isn't insulted with people talking about her great beauty, but instead we're given a narrative where people are attracted to Dorothy because of her wit, her charm, and her forthright personality. When was the last time you saw a movie where men chased after a woman who could be described as plain just because she was charming? And now riddle me this - when was the last time that character wasn't a man in drag? We have a character we're supposed to believe is a middle aged woman who is being treated as sexually desirable because of what's between her ears, while in the real world, stunningly beautiful middle aged women can't get romantic parts, and stunningly beautiful women approaching age 30 can't get cast opposite men in their 50's, because apparently it's unbelievable that a man in his 50's would chase a 30-year-old with supermodel looks, so she should be recast as 23. And in 1982 they made a movie where men in their 50's were chasing Dustin Hoffman in a dress. I don't think some of the sexism messages in this movie were absorbed as well as they hoped, though this is as close to a screwball comedy as has been made since the 1950's.
I'd say this is a definite watch. This is the third time I've seen it, and I've enjoyed it every time. It just gives me a lot to think about re: what's expected of women in film vs. what's expected of men. But it is one nutty hospital.