Matchup of the Day: Tootsie vs. Victor/Victoria
This time around we have two films, both released in 1982, where a person pretends to be the opposite sex in order to find work in the entertainment business.
Victor/Victoria, set in 1930’s Paris, involves a destitute woman, Victoria (Julie Andrews), with an impressive set of pipes who can’t find work as a singer. Unable to pay her rent and starving, she attempts to score a free meal at a restaurant by planting a cockroach in her salad. It’s there she meets Carroll Todd, a middle-aged gay man who was just fired from his nightclub job. Both in need of money, he comes up with the idea for Victoria pretend to be a male cross-dresser who can sing like a woman. In Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman plays a persnickety actor, Michael, in need of $8,000 to finance a play. Because of his obsessive standards, no one in New York will hire him. Even his agent suggests that he seek therapy. Desperate for employment, he decides to audition for a role on the soap opera Southwest General disguised as a woman. They appreciate his moxie when he tells off the male chauvinist director and he gets the job.
Victoria becomes famous masquerading as Victor, a transvestite Polish nobleman with glass-shattering vocal abilities. Todd pretends to be Victor’s lover to further conceal the deception. As Victor’s notoriety grows, a visiting Chicago nightclub owner, King Marchand, begins to take notice. Because he finds Victor attractive in drag (who is actually Victoria NOT in drag), Marchand quickly begins to doubt the charade. He sneaks into Victoria’s bathroom while she’s bathing and confirms his suspicions. With the truth revealed, Marchand feels comfortable making his move. Victoria reciprocates the gesture and the two strike up a romance… with Victoria still playing Victor.
Michael, too, becomes famous, but as the straight-talking Dorothy. He improvises his lines on the soap opera to make Dorothy’s character more assertive, which strikes a chord with the female viewership. Michael becomes enamoured with one of his co-stars, Julie, but doesn’t tell her that Dorothy is an act. The two become friends. Complicating matters further, Julie’s father starts to fall for Dorothy. Eventually, Michael does try to make a move on Julie as Dorothy, which leads her to believe that Dorothy is a lesbian.
After realizing that her lifestyle isn’t conducive with continuing her relationship with Marchand, Victoria decides to give up being Victor. Michael stops playing Dorothy as well so he can be with Julia. (In both cases, it’s likely they couldn’t have carried on the ruse forever.) What’s interesting is what each character learns about him/herself. There’s a conversation between Victoria and Marchand where she talks about how being a man gives her more opportunities. That “I’m my own man” as she puts it, which I took to mean that she gets to be her own person on her own terms. Michael makes something of a reverse statement after revealing that he isn’t Dorothy. When he tries to convince Julia to forgive his deception, he says “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man.”
The difference, it seems, between the two movies is that Michael gets to go back to being a man, but with the added bonus of better understanding women. Victoria goes back to being a woman, but with the knowledge of the greater freedom of being a man. (Victoria is a talented singer, of course, and Marchand is a nightclub owner. Her future seems bright. The movie just doesn’t quite show what Victoria gave up as far as being her “own man”.)